Created by the CIA in 1955 as a place to develop top-secret projects, Area 51 is not on any official map and its existence is ardently denied by the government. Only now has the CIA declassified a trove of Cold War documents and images allowing a glimpse into an untold history.
Following its construction, workers on Area 51 were cut off from the outside world and for years not even radio signals or TV were allowed to penetrate the secret compound. But the security paid off, and from the late 1950′s until the late 1960′s the Air Force developed the most advanced spy plane the world has never seen.
In a recently de-classified series of photos, National Geographic outlines the story of the OXCART project tasked with getting the first true stealth plane, the Archangel-12 (A-12) into the air. The craft was invisible to radar, flew at 2,000 mph, and could capture ground objects 12-inches long from 90,000 feet.
Rumors of the A-12 irked the Soviets to no end and they delivered a constant parade of satellites over Area 51 to see what they could learn. Employees were given a schedule of when the “tin cans” would be passing overhead and they’d roll the plane into hangars before it could be seen.
Unfortunately, the Soviet infrared satellites picked up the cool shadow of the A-12 on the pavement after it had been moved, and though they were able to draw a mock-up of the A-12 they never gained knowledge of the design.
Through its development, the plane flew almost 3,000 test flights, at least one of which ended in tragedy. In 1963, an A-12 crashed in the desert outside the base and a rapid government cover-up wiped nearly all traces of the incident from public record.
Only with the burst of declassified documents and pictures, a few of which are pictured below, has the story finally come to light.
See more pictures at National Geographic.