This 16-part blog series will delve into the history, mission, and mysteries of Nellis Air Force Base. We will investigate this enigmatic military outpost from its opening in 1941. We’ll look at the base’s numerous military functions and the various conspiracy theories surrounding it. We will also investigate the multiple reports of UFO sightings and extraterrestrial encounters in the area. Join us as we explore Area 51’s mysteries and find the truth about this enigmatic military outpost.
The U-2 is a single-engine, high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft built by Lockheed Martin Skunk Works. It was developed for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and first flown in 1955. The U-2 (“Article”) project was so secretive that many of its employees called it the “Article” program because of its code name, Article.
In Nevada, Nellis Air Force Base’s 88th Air Division and Detachment 1 conducted flight testing on early models of the U-2 at Area 51 during Project Aquatone between 1954 and 1956.
Lockheed Martin’s U-2 is a single-engine, high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft designed and built by Lockheed Martin. It was developed by the Skunk Works division of Lockheed for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) from 1955 to 1975. A total of 32 aircraft were produced. Twenty-nine were accepted into service; three were modified for testing specific enhancements, and one was lost in an accident. The last aircraft was retired from service in 1990, and the type has been replaced by other reconnaissance platforms such as satellites, drones, etc.
The first flight of the U-2A took place on August 1 at Groom Lake Test Range (Area 51) in 1955, with CIA pilot Tony LeVier at the controls. After flying 12 test flights over two weeks, LeVier flew it to Plant 42 in Burbank, where it underwent further tests before being sent back to Area 51.
The U-2 was a CIA project. Lockheed developed it. The first flight of the U-2 took place on August 1, 1955. The U-2 was a high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft that could fly above 70,000 feet (21 km), above most air defense systems of the time, and spy on its targets with cameras and other sensors mounted in its belly.
Flight testing in Nevada
After the X-20 program was canceled, the U-2 program moved from Burbank to Area 51.
Flight testing at Groom Lake began in 1955 and continued through 1959. The first U-2A aircraft arrived at Area 51 on January 21, 1956, for preparation for flight testing by Lockheed test pilots Carl Cross and Bill Parkin. The first flight of a U-2A took place on July 30, 1956, with Cross at the controls.
The production line model of this aircraft was designated Model 1049E and later redesignated Model 1049C when the U-2C became available in 1960. In addition to its role as an interceptor fighter (as previously discussed), it also served as a training platform for Air Force pilots assigned to fly other types of soldiers such as F-100s or A/B 52s – both types being passed by our adversaries South Korea’s MiG 15s which could outfly most American fighters except those that had been modified specifically for air combat such as F86 Sabres or F104 Starfighters).
The Edwards Years
In 1955, the U-2 program moved to its permanent home at Area 51 in Nevada. However, Lockheed continued to use Edwards Air Force Base as a testing ground for new designs. At Edwards, they developed and tested the A-12 Blackbird spy plane and its successor, the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane.
Edwards Air Force Base still operates today as a significant airfield that supports both military and civilian operations; however, it is no longer used for testing aircraft—the last flight of a U-2 occurred there in 1989, with an SR-71B model making an appearance in 1990 before being retired from service entirely by 1992.
Nellis’s Early Years and the U-2
The U-2 was developed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, and the first flight took place from Edwards AFB in California. The CIA used it as a spy plane.
After that first flight, it was tested at Nellis because of its proximity to Area 51 (the other secret base). Both floors are now controlled by the US Air Force Warfare Center (USAFWC).
1950s Development and Testing and CIA Involvement
- The CIA was involved in the U-2’s development and testing.
- It was tested at Nellis AFB.
- The U-2’s role in the Cold War
Paint it Black, CIA Style
The U-2 was initially painted black to help it blend into the sky. The CIA wanted to hide its existence from the Soviet Union, and its paint job also helped it avoid detection by radar.
The aircraft is painted with flat black paint, which helps deflect heat and makes it more difficult for observers below to spot. The dark color also reduces glare from sunlight reflecting off the plane’s surface, which could reveal its position before takeoff or during flight.
The Lockheed Skunk Works
A special team designed and developed the U-2 within Skunk Works. The team was headed by Clarence “Kelly” Johnson, a talented aeronautical engineer who had helped develop many successful aircraft for Lockheed Martin. One of his notable accomplishments was the P-80 Shooting Star fighter plane, which became the first fighter used by the United States Army Air Forces during World War II.
Johnson’s team at Skunk Works was known for its secrecy and high-quality designs. This combination enabled Johnson to create several planes well ahead of their time: the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane and the F-117 Nighthawk stealth bomber (both developed in 1981).
Lockheed employees called the U-2 project the “Article” program because of its code name, Article.
The U-2 was developed by Lockheed’s Skunk Works division, which was a nickname for the company’s Advanced Development Projects division. The “Article” program name came from its code name: Article. Once it became clear that this project would be similar to other classified projects (such as the A-12), Lockheed employees started calling it the “Article” program due to its code name, Article.
The Lockheed U-2 was a game-changer in the Cold War, and its development and testing at Nellis AFB helped give the United States an edge over the Soviet Union. The program also paved the way for many other military aircraft that would follow it, including spy planes like the SR-71 Blackbird.