The Secret Base

“So amazing that we’re ordering hundreds of millions of dollars-worth of new airplanes for the Air Force,” Trump said at a public military briefing in Hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico last October. “You can’t see it,” he claimed of the F-35, an extraordinarily costly and glitch-ridden project. “You literally can’t see it. So it’s hard to fight a plane that you can’t see, right?”

At Thanksgiving, he told an audience of the US Coast Guard that the F-35 was “almost like an invisible fighter.”

“I was asking the Air Force guys, I said, ‘How good is this plane?’” he continued. “‘In a fight, you know like a fight, like I watched on the movies: a fight – they’re fighting. How good is this?’ They said, ‘Well it wins every time because the enemy cannot see it. Even if it’s right next to it, it can’t see it.’”

The F-35 isn’t really invisible. But if an invisible plane did exist, it might be found at “Area 51”.

The Nevada Test and Training Range, just north of Las Vegas, is a restricted area of desert about eight times the size of Greater London. The Pentagon controls most of it (mainly for Air Force exercises), but a large interior sub-plot was staked out after the Second World War by what was then known as the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). In 1951 its scientists detonated the first of an eventual total of 933 nuclear bombs there: 105 above ground, the rest in underground chambers.

Area 51, America’s most secret, and, these days, perhaps also its most famous domestic military installation, was established at the same time around Groom Lake, a dry lake bed just outside the AEC zone of the Training Range, in a remote jurisdictional no-man’s-land that could help to mask the most delicate projects. According to Annie Jacobsen’s Area 51 (2011), when the government wanted to set off…

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