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Humble Beginnings - page 18 / 63





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The survey report described Groom Lake as follows: "The surface is very smooth and extremely hard. All approaches are good, and runways can be used in any direction with just over three miles of lake available. This lake is considered excellent for emergency use." Groom Lake was designated as a contingency landing site for eleven X-15 missions, but none of the flights had to abort to the secret base.

September 1959 EG&G agreed to move its radar test facility to Groom Lake for security reasons. A special pylon was constructed on a paved loop road on the western side of the lakebed. Aerial photos of Groom Lake were taken for construction contractor Holmes & Narver, Inc. (H&N).

November 1959 The AEC issued a press release regarding construction of a butler-type building for "Project 51" at Groom Lake. The statement indicated that the building would be used to "house data reduction equipment for use by Edgerton, Germeshausen, and Grier [EG&G, Inc.] in an Air Force Program." The construction project led to a labor dispute. REECo obtained a court order to force the union to provide half a dozen sheet metal workers for the project, then agreed to arbitration of the dispute prior to an injunction hearing in district court.

A full-scale mock-up of the A-12 was shipped to Area 51 for radar signature testing by EG&G.

December 1959 Joe Vensel, Forrest Petersen, and Jim McKay flew from the NASA Flight Research Center (FRC) at Edwards to Nevada in a NASA R4D-5 (17136) to re-survey X-15 landing sites. They landed on the northern end of Groom Lake, just outside the restricted area and tested the lakebed surface by taxiing the aircraft across the hard-packed clay.

They soon saw jeeps approaching from Watertown, but the R4D took off before the jeeps arrived.

An Air Force crew attempted a survey following a winter storm. Air Traffic controllers at Area 51 denied landing clearance to the survey aircraft, so it just made a fly-by. The crew noted that there was water on the east half of the lakebed.

Project High Range was completed to track the X-15. It was a High-Altitude Continuous Tracking Radar range over 400 miles long, and stretching from California to Utah. It included radar facilities and microwave relay units. One of the latter, MRU-4, was placed on top of Bald Mountain, 14 miles north of Groom Lake.

September 1960 Base construction began at Area 51 to build facilities to support Project OXCART, the Lockheed A-12. Since the existing 5,000-foot runway (built for the U-2) was incapable of supporting the weight of the A-12, a new airstrip (Runway 14/32) was constructed.

NASA and AFFTC personnel discussed the idea of using the airspace over Groom as a launch site for the X-15. They determined that Groom had advantages over Mud Lake, near Tonopah, since there were more intermediate contingency landing sites available between Groom and Edwards. The Use of Groom Lake also meant a reduction in AFFTC support requirements since there was already an airfield with emergency equipment and personnel at the site. Ultimately, they agreed to remove Groom from consideration as a launch site due to difficulty obtaining clearance into the area.

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