How The Connection Between Area 51 And Aliens Actually Started

Just reading the words "Area 51" brings to mind images of alien autopsies and grounded UFOs and starts the theme from The X-Files running through our heads. Area 51 is reportedly just another government facility sitting ominously in the middle of the Nevada desert, home to the usual government weirdness like military tests and secretive operations with code names like the Watertown Project and Skunk Works. How did it come to be associated with aliens? And is there any reason to think that the truth is out there?

According to How Stuff Works, Area 51 came into existence during World War II, when the Army Air Corps (later the Air Force) built several runways in Nevada, including two near Groom Lake. They were abandoned after the 1940s, only to be rediscovered in the 1950s when the CIA entered into a partnership with aerospace corporation Lockheed and needed a remote location in which to create and test surveillance aircraft — remote, but close enough to a city to supply the base without difficulty. Lockheed named the area Paradise Ranch to make it sound appealing to workers, and then-President Dwight Eisenhower signed an executive order restricting the area's airspace. The name "Area 51" is thought to be taken from a map of the Nevada Test Sites, where nuclear weapons were tested before that practice was banned. The area near Groom Lake borders a section called Area 15 and it's assumed by some that Area 51 is the reversal of this. 

Bob Lazar and 'element 115'

So how did aliens become part of the Area 51 lore? As reported by Vicein 1989 a man using the alias "Dennis" gave an interview to reporter George Knapp on KLAS-Las Vegas during which he claimed that he had worked in a section of Area 51 called "S4," in which he dealt with recovered alien spacecraft. Within months, he went public with his real name, Bob Lazar. He elaborated that his job was to reverse-engineer an alien material called element 115, which Lazar said was used to power alien spacecraft. Lazar further claimed that the government was now after him, erasing his academic records and shooting out his tires. He eventually opened a business called United Nuclear Scientific that still exists today and strives "to once again make scientific equipment & supplies available to everyone," according to its About page.

The alien rumors were only compounded by the many UFO sightings reported around the area. According to Britannica, the people spotting UFOs are probably seeing actual military aircraft being tested — that's what the area is intended for — but Area 51's reputation makes the possibility of UFOs seem all the more likely. Another part of Area 51's mythos comes from the United States government refusing to officially acknowledge its existence until 2013, when George Washington University's National Security Archive used the Freedom of Information Act to get a CIA document on the history of the U-2 spy plane. 

What about Operation Blue Book?

The U-2 and other aircraft developed and tested at Area 51 can reach much higher altitudes than traditional aircraft, which accounts for people thinking the flying objects they saw were indeed unidentified. There was one section of the CIA's declassified documents that gave some pause. As explained by, the Air Force had a project called Operation Blue Book in which they "collected all reports of UFO sightings." Some attribute the data to people's confusion about seeing U-2s and other aircraft flying so much higher than what they were used to seeing. The government was unable at the time to explain to people that what they were seeing were U-2s, because the testing was still classified. Of course, not everyone is going to take Area 51 claims for granted, and several people, including noted UFO skeptic Robert Sheaffer, have claimed that the U-2 tests and the UFO sightings often don't line up. (Cue the X-Files theme ... again.)

The government doesn't help quell the alien rumors by continuing to perform secretive tests in Area 51. In 2013, the Washington Post reported that not only did the CIA test military drones there, they had done so since the 1960s under programs disconcertingly named AQUILINE and AXILLA. The prototypes were flown more than 20 times and probably account for several UFO sightings. All in all, it looks like the truth is in fact out there, but the truth is probably standard government secrecy, not aliens-and-UFOs secrecy.