Area 51 also hosted another foreign materiel evaluation program called HAVE GLIB. This involved testing Soviet tracking and missile control radar systems. A complex of actual and replica Soviet-type threat systems began to grow around "Slater Lake" (the pond, which had been named after the former Roadrunners commander), a mile northwest of the main base. They were arranged to simulate a Soviet-style air defense complex.
The Air Force began funding improvements to Area 51 in 1977 under project SCORE EVENT. In 1979, the CIA transferred control of the test site to the AFFTC at Edwards.
It was now a remote operating location of the Center, and was designated Detachment 3, AFFTC. Sam Mitchell, the last CIA commander of Area 51, relinquished command to Lt. Col. Larry D. McClain.
Pioneers of Stealth
In November 1977, a C-5 arrived at Groom Lake carrying the Lockheed HAVE BLUE prototype. HAVE BLUE was the first airplane designed to be virtually invisible to radar. The single-seat jet looked like a faceted arrowhead with two inwardly canted tail fins. Its boxy, angular fuselage and wings contributed to its low RCS. It was eventually covered with radar absorbent material (RAM).
Such shaping and material treatments rendered the airplane "low observable" or "stealthy."
The first HAVE BLUE vehicle, Article 1001, was flown to demonstrate handling characteristics. The second was scheduled to carry out tests of the low observable (L.O.) characteristics. After arriving at the test site, Article 1001 underwent a few weeks of flight control, engine, and taxi tests. Every time HAVE BLUE was rolled out of its hangar, uncleared personnel at the base were sequestered to prevent them from seeing the aircraft.
HAVE BLUE first flew on 1 December 1977 with Lockheed test pilot Bill Park at the controls. Skunkworks chief Ben Rich, his predecessor "Kelly" Johnson, and Ken Perko of the Advanced Research Projects Agency were on hand to witness the event. The flight was also monitored by the White House Situation Room and Tactical Air Command Headquarters at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia. Article 1001 completed 36 flights before being lost in a non-fatal accident.
Article 1002, the low observables technology demonstrator, made its first flight on 20 July 1978 piloted by Lt. Col. Norman "Ken" Dyson. It made 52 flights against sophisticated U.S. and Soviet ground-based radars, and the E-3 Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS). Article 1002 was lost on 11 July 1979 due to an engine fire.
At the time of the accident only one final test flight had been scheduled for the HAVE BLUE program.
In October 1978, Lockheed conducted the first test of its stealth cruise missile, code named SENIOR PROM. Six prototypes were built. They somewhat resembled a subscale, unmanned version of the HAVE BLUE, but with outwardly-canted tails, narrow wings, and a single jet intake located where the cockpit would have been. The demonstrator models were launched from a DC-130. Thirteen test flights were made, and all six vehicles recovered. The recovery method involved deploying a ballistic parachute and inflating a ventral landing bag. Although the SENIOR PROM tests were successful, the contract for production of a stealthy Advanced Cruise Missile (ACM) went to the less expensive General Dynamics AGM-129A. SENIOR PROM was cancelled in 1981.
On 17 January 1981 the Lockheed test team at Groom Lake accepted delivery of the first SENIOR TREND Full Scale Development (FSD) prototype, Ship 780, designated YF-117A. Like the HAVE BLUE, it too resembled a faceted arrowhead, except that the tails were canted outward in a "V" shape. Ship 780 first flew on 18 June 1981 with Lockheed test pilot Hal