Next Stop: Area 51


There is a lot to see from looking upward in Las Vegas. There is the Big Apple roller coaster which races along the top of New York, New York casino; the High-Roller, a Ferris wheel is so big and imposing that it seems capable of breaking loose and rolling its way to Mexico; the Stratosphere a tower that dominates the skyline from miles away; helicopter tours to who knows where are taking off and landing throughout the day.

Yet to me, the most intriguing aerial related site was seen from above looking down. Welcome to the mystery airport. The city’s McCarran International airport is located close to downtown—another facility, known as “Janet” is off to itself alongside the bigger airport. (It is uncertain where that name came from although one joke says it stands for “Just Another Non-Existent Terminal.” Given the military’s fondness for humorless acronyms, it more likely stands for “Joint Air Network for Employee Transportation”, or, a bit more daring, as suggested by Wikipedia,”Joint Army Navy & Extra Terrestrial”).

From my room on the 35th floor of the Mandalay Bay/Four seasons complex, I could look down at the smaller airport and be intrigued that absolutely nothing was happening. There was enough nothingness to make it exciting.

There were a few planes located there; nine at first count; all passenger jets; all painted solid white with parallel stripes of red and blue; none with any symbols or writing to identify them. Nearby was a terminal building; its coat matched the same shade of inconspicuous white as the planes and was also devoid of identification.

Word is that the airport is the gateway to the mysterious Area 51 located somewhere North of the city along a dry lakebed in the Nevada dessert. What goes on at Area 51 may be the nation’s biggest secret. Speculation is that it has to do with building and testing very sophisticated spy aircraft. And it does reportedly have extremely long runways, which would be good for planes having to go very high. Inevitably, Area 51 is also linked to UFO sleuthing, though that could get confused with Roswell, one state over in New Mexico. On the other hand, the states are close enough together to be an extra-terrestrial play land. What seems most likely is that there is spy plane activity linked to Cold War desires to keep a high eye on perceived enemies.

Whatever flies to the Area, the government wants to keep it secret. Last week I happened to talk to a retired Air Force pilot Lt. Colonel. He was not involved with Area 51 during his career but, like anyone in the Air Force, he did hear many rumors about the fights from Las Vegas. One was that the windows were blocked out so that none of the passengers could see the destination. Another was that passengers were forbidden from talking to each other about their specific jobs. There were also stories about Air Force pilots who had accidentally flown over the site were subsequently grounded and kept in isolation for a while. This is a no nonsense place.

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For the two mornings I was in the hotel I did anticipate seeing workers loading into the planes. In fact, I saw no one. During the time I was watching only one plane rolled onto the taxi area. I could not see if there were passengers. It took off and headed North. There were no arriving planes.

One of the planes on the ground was a big B-747, the jet with the hump above the cab—the type that was also used by Presidents as Air Force One. It was not used while I was there. Thinking that the plane could provide an adequate flying command post during an emergency, I guess it was good that it remained on the ground.

Though there were few parked planes; there were plenty cars in the vehicle lot; at least 100, which I assumed belonged to the employees. That suggested to me that those who go to the Area stay there for few days other than just nine-to-fiving it. The Colonel said he heard that most of the flights out leave early in the morning and return in the evening. I guess they are less conspicuous that way.

For those on board, juxtaposition between secretive Area 51 and flamboyant Las Vegas must be jarring. Yet what is said about one place is no doubt true of the other. What goes on there stays there.





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BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.




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