1959 for RCS tests to be performed by Edgerton, Germeshausen & Grier (EG&G) of Las Vegas. On 10 September, EG&G agreed to move its radar test facility from Indian Springs, Nevada, to Groom Lake for security reasons. A special pylon was constructed on a paved loop road on the west side of the lakebed.
The A-12 mock-up was moved from Burbank to the test site on a specially designed trailer truck. By 18 November, the model was in place. It took 18 months of testing and adjustment before the A-12 achieved a satisfactory RCS.
Naturally, a secret location was needed for testing the triple-sonic A-12. Ten U.S. Air Force bases programmed for closure were considered, but none provided adequate security, and annual operating costs were prohibitive for most. Groom Lake was selected although it lacked personnel accommodations, fuel storage, and an adequate runway.
Lockheed planners estimated cost requirements for monthly fuel consumption, hangars, maintenance facilities, housing, and runway specifications. The CIA then produced a plan for construction and engineering. A CIA cover story stated that the facilities were being prepared for radar studies to be conducted by an engineering firm with USAF support. Construction at the site, referred to as Project 51, was performed by Reynolds Electrical and Engineering Company (REECo).
Base construction began on 1 September 1960 and continued on a double-shift schedule until 1 June 1964. Workers were ferried in from Burbank and Las Vegas on C-54 aircraft. Since the existing 5,000-foot runway was incapable of supporting the weight of the A-12, a new airstrip (runway 14/32) was constructed between 7 September and 15 November 1960.
The A-12 required a runway at least 8,500 feet long. About 25,000 cubic yards of concrete were poured to make the airstrip. A 10,000-foot asphalt extension, for emergency use, cut diagonally across the southwest corner of the lakebed. An Archimedes curve approximately two miles across was marked on the dry lake so that an A-12 pilot approaching the end of the overrun could abort to the playa instead of plunging the aircraft into the sagebrush. Area 51 pilots called it "The Hook." For crosswind landings two unpaved airstrips (runways 9/27 and 03/21) were marked on the dry lakebed.
Kelly Johnson had been reluctant to construct a standard Air Force runway, with expansion joints every 25-feet, because he feared the joints would set up undesirable vibrations in the OXCART aircraft. At his suggestion, the 150-foot-wide runway was constructed in segments, each made up of six 25-foot-wide longitudinal sections. The sections were 150 feet long and staggered. This layout put most of the expansion joints parallel to the direction of aircraft roll, and reduced the frequency of the joints.
Essential facilities were completed by August 1961. Three surplus U.S. Navy hangars were obtained, dismantled, and erected on the base's north side. They were designated as Hangar 4, 5, and 6. A fourth, Hangar 7, was built new. More than 130 U.S. Navy surplus Babbitt duplex housing units were transported to the base and made ready for occupancy. The original U-2 hangars were converted to maintenance and machine shops. Facilities in the main cantonment area included workshops and buildings for storage and administration, a commissary, control tower, fire station, and housing.
It was determined that 500,000 gallons of JP-7 fuel would be needed monthly to support the OXCART program. By early 1962 a fuel farm, including seven tanks 1,320,000-gallon capacity was complete. Older buildings were repaired, and additional facilities were constructed as necessary. A reservoir pond, surrounded by trees, served as a recreational area one mile north of the base. Other recreational facilities included a gymnasium, movie theatre, and a baseball diamond.
On 15 November 1961, USAF Col. Robert J. Holbury was named commander of the secret base, with the CIA's Werner Weiss as his deputy. The base was still a CIA facility, and would remain so for another 18 years.