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Humble Beginnings - page 14 / 63





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May 1955 LeVier, Kammerer, and Johnson returned to Groom Lake in Lockheed's Bonanza. Using a compass and surveying equipment, they laid out a place for a 5,000-foot, north-south runway on the southwest corner of the lakebed. They also staked out the general layout of the base.

Herb Miller of CIA Development Projects Staff issued $800,000 in contracts for construction of the base. Through the AEC, Miller organized a team of construction crews.

Seth Woodruff Jr., Manager of the AEC Las Vegas Field Office, announced to the news media that he had "instructed the Reynolds Electrical and Engineering Co., Inc. [REECo] to begin preliminary work on a small, satellite Nevada Test Site installation." He noted that work was already underway at the location "a few miles northeast of Yucca Flat and within the Las Vegas Bombing and Gunnery Range." Woodruff said that the installation would include "a runway, dormitories, and a few other buildings for housing equipment." The facility was described as "essentially temporary." The press release was distributed to 18 media outlets in Nevada and Utah including a dozen newspapers, four radio stations, and two television stations.

LeVier and fellow Lockheed test pilot Bob Matye spent nearly a month removing surface debris from Groom Lake (the area had been used for gunnery practice during World War II). LeVier also drew up a proposal for four three-mile-long runways to be marked on the hard- packed clay. Johnson, however, refused to approve the $450.00 expense, citing a lack of funds. Drilling resulted in discovery of a limited water supply, but trouble with the well soon developed and water had to be trucked in.

July 1955 Construction of the base was completed. It consisted of a single paved 5,000-foot runway, three hangars, a control tower, and rudimentary accommodations for test personnel. The base's few amenities included a movie theatre and volleyball court. Additionally, there was a mess hall, and several water wells and fuel storage tanks.

CIA, Air Force, and Lockheed personnel began arriving at the Groom Lake test site.

The test site was officially and legally named Watertown after CIA Director Allen Dulles' birthplace: Watertown, New York. It is still listed as a member of Alamo Township in Lincoln County, Nevada.

Richard Newton of the CIA assigned as base commander.

The first U-2 (Article 341), disassembled, was flown to "The Ranch" in an Air Force C-124 cargo plane. Base commander Richard Newton expressed his doubts to Kelly Johnson that the new asphalt runway would support the weight of the loaded C-124.

Tony LeVier piloted the unofficial maiden flight in Article 341 during a taxi test.

August 1955 Levier, with the callsign ANGEL 1, made the first real flight in Article 341. Bob Matye flew chase in a C-47 with "Kelly" Johnson on board as an observer.

September 1955 LeVier completed Phase I (contractor) testing. His accomplishments included taking the U- 2 to 50,000 feet, achieving the maximum design speed of Mach 0.84, and making a successful dead-stick landing.

LeVier was replaced by Lockheed test pilots Bob Matye and Ray Goudey, who expanded the altitude envelope to 74,500 feet.

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