soon acquired a new name: Watertown. According to some accounts, the site was named after CIA director Allen Dulles' birthplace in Watertown, New York. It is still listed as a member of Alamo Township in Lincoln County.
The first U-2 was transported, disassembled, to Watertown in an Air Force C-124 cargo plane. It had no serial number and was designated Article 341. Tony LeVier made the unofficial first flight in the U-2 during a taxi test on 29 July. He piloted the first planned test flight on 4 August.
After completing Phase I (contractor) testing LeVier was replaced by Lockheed test pilots Bob Matye and Ray Goudey who expanded the airplane's altitude envelope to its operational limits. By November 1955, the test group also included Robert Sieker and Robert Schumacher.
On 17 November 1955, tragedy struck the AQUATONE project. An Air Force C-54M (44-9068) transporting personnel to the secret base crashed near the top of Mt. Charleston, about 20 miles west of Las Vegas. Nine civilians and five military personnel were killed. There were no survivors. After the accident, Lockheed assumed responsibility for transporting personnel to Watertown. A company-owned C-47 was used to ferry pilots, technicians, and special visitors to the test site.
By the beginning of 1956, four U-2 aircraft had been delivered to the Groom Lake test site. By the end of March the fleet consisted of nine aircraft, and six CIA pilots were undergoing flight training at the site. Four experienced instructor pilots trained three classes in ground school, followed by landing practice in a T-33 and, eventually, solo flights in the U-2. The second class underwent training at Groom between May and August 1956. It included Francis Gary Powers, who would later win dubious fame after being shot down and captured while flying a U-2 over the Soviet Union. The third training class was conducted in late 1956.
Several U-2 airplanes were lost in accidents including the prototype. Two CIA pilots were killed and one escaped without injury. Lockheed test pilot Robert Sieker perished in Article 341.
Nuclear weapons testing at nearby Yucca Flat affected test and training activities at Watertown. During the first two years of the Watertown operation, the atomic proving ground had been quiet as all full-scale testing was taking place at Bikini and Eniwetok atolls in the Pacific Ocean. That changed in the summer of 1957 with Operation Plumbbob.
Because Groom Lake was downwind of the proving ground, Watertown personnel were required to evacuate the base prior to each detonation. The AEC, in turn, tried to ensure that expected fallout from any given shot would be limited so as to permit re-entry of personnel within three to four weeks. Evacuation plans included notification procedures, adequate security for classified areas, means to inform evacuees when they might return, and radiation monitoring. If a nuclear test was postponed, which occurred frequently, Watertown personnel were required to evacuate prior to each new shot date.
All personnel at the base were required to wear radiation badges to measure their exposure to fallout. AEC Radiological Safety (Rad-Safe) officers briefed Watertown personnel on nuclear testing activities and radiation safety, and presented a film called Atomic Tests In Nevada. They also made arrangements for radiation monitors to visit the airbase whenever fallout was anticipated in the Watertown area.
Project 57, the first shot of the new series, took place on Watertown's doorstep. On 24 April 1957, the AEC conducted a safety experiment with an XW-25 warhead just five miles northwest of Groom Lake in Area 13. Only the bottom detonator of the device was fired, simulating an accident not involving a nuclear detonation. The test was designed to disperse a known quantity of plutonium over a defined area to develop effective monitoring and decontamination procedures.