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Humble Beginnings - page 39 / 63





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This section shows the South Base area, with the southern ramp and hangars:

To the right of the gravel pit discussed above is the main fuel storage area of the base. There used to be eight large fuel tanks, which were left over from the A-12 spy plane development at Area 51 in the 1960's. Most of the tanks have been removed in early 2001, only the southern two remained. In early 2003 two large new fuel tanks were installed to replace the older tanks. The brown building near the fuel truck parking area is probably a fire station or maintenance building.

In front of the fuel storage area and to the right is a site with aircraft communications and navigation equipment. Several tall antenna poles can be seen next to the left building. Another antenna pole is further to the right.

Behind it is another parking area with construction vehicles surrounding a vehicle maintenance building. In the background is the Area 51 "Boneyard". This is where abandonned projects and prototypes end up after they reach the end of their usefulness. Some test platforms, such as the Boeing Bird of Prey or Northrop's Tacit Blue, are stored in the hangars here for years, before finally being declassified and placed in a museum.

Others are being disassembled and never see the light of the "White World". The long white building to the right is the shooting range, facing away from us (and from the base).

Now we are getting to the South Ramp area, and to some interesting new additions. The South Ramp has been re-paved in summer of 2003, several new buildings were added and there is still some construction equipment visible in the area. This part of the base is clearly getting ready for a major new project to move in.

This new project is likely related to the development and test of a larger UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) or UCAV (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle). UCAVs are a fairly new technology, but have already proven their usefulness in recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. The first generation of UCAVs, the MQ-1 Predator, is armed with two laser-guided Hellfire missiles.

Newer UCAVs are expected to be larger, and to be designed for much greater payloads.

The building in the foreground, surrounded by a mound of dirt, is the weapons assembly and storage facility. As with the explosives storage area described above, the surrounding wall of dirt is designed to deflect a blast in case of an accident here. Behind it, in front of Hangars 9- 16, is a large new hangar, built in spring 2005. It is much taller than the other hangars, which could indicate that it is used to mount a test vehicle on top of a carrier aircraft.

Many new experimental high-speed aircraft, known as X-Planes, are carried to their operating altitude by a carrier aircraft, referred to as the Mothership. Hangars 9 through 16 were used for development of the A-12 "Oxcart", and its successor, the SR 71 "Blackbird". Both aircraft were reconnaissance platforms (or, less diplomatic: spy planes), designed for high altitudes (90,000ft.) and high speed (mach 3+).

They were used until the early 1990's, in the gulf war. It appears that the long disused hangars 9-16 are part of the recent renovation, and that they will be used for the new project(s) mentioned above.

The long two-tone building in the back is Hangar 17. The two white double-hangars in front of

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