Area 51 Black Jets: A History of the Aircraft Developed at Groom Lake, America's Secret Aviation Base. By Bill Yenne. Minneapolis, Minn.: Zenith Press, 2014. Maps. Diagrams. Illustrations. Photographs. Prologue. Epilogue. Acronyms. Bibliography. Index. Pg.192. $40.00 ISBN-13:978-0-7603-4426-2
Author Bill Yenne, an expert in this field, has done an absolutely superb job tracing the remarkable history of Area 51 and accurately presenting the aircraft that have been tested, developed, and fielded under very high-security conditions to meet our nation's needs. His incredible selection of supporting pictures, maps, and diagrams vividly brings the story alive.
President Eisenhower had assessed a growing security risk to the U.S. from unknown, but threatening, Soviet nuclear and strategic weapons developments. It was difficult to determine what the Soviets were developing and fielding and how far along they were. Conventional military aircraft had been used for limited overflight and peripheral missions with the loss of over fourteen aircraft and more than 170 acknowledged aircrew members. A revolutionary new aircraft was needed specifically designed for undetected overflights, as the Soviets could view such flights as potential acts of war.
Kelly Johnson, head of the Lockheed "Skunk Works," developed the revolutionary U-2 aircraft. But where could he test this vehicle in utmost secrecy? A remote site beside a dry lake inside the Nevada nuclear test area would provide excellent landing strips for test aircraft. So began the legend of Area 51 with its magic, fascination, and endless tales on what might be under development in this isolated government location.
The land surrounding Area 51 had hosted more than 1,000 nuclear tests and the attempted development of a nuclear rocket engine. This area had a long history of very tight security--remote and secure yet easily accessible to major military and industrial areas of the southwest. In April 1955, Johnson visited the Groom Lake Area 51 location and approved the location. A bare-base facility was quickly developed with a runway and airport complex known as the "Ranch," "Watertown," or "Dream Land." The U-2 went from contract signing to first flight at Groom Lake in just nine months--August 1955. To bring men and materials in and out of this location, a large government airlift was established, later replaced by a flexible private airline service that is still very much in operation today.