OXCART: The Real Secret of Area 51

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Since the government has finally declassified the program, the people who worked at Area 51 can now talk about A-12 OXCART, a Wicked Secret program to build an test a Mach 3 spyplane at Nevada's Groom Lake. (You may know it as the SR-71 Blackbird.) The L.A. Times talks to survivors of the program:

So, what of those urban legends--the UFOs studied in secret, the underground tunnels connecting clandestine facilities? For decades, the men at Area 51 thought they'd take their secrets to the grave. At the height of the Cold War, they cultivated anonymity while pursuing some of the country's most covert projects. Conspiracy theories were left to popular imagination. But in talking with Collins, Lovick, Slater, Barnes and Martin, it is clear that much of the folklore was spun from threads of fact.

As for the myths of reverse engineering of flying saucers, Barnes offers some insight: "We did reverse engineer a lot of foreign technology, including the Soviet MiG fighter jet out at the Area"--even though the MiG wasn't shaped like a flying saucer. As for the underground-tunnel talk, that, too, was born of truth. Barnes worked on a nuclear-rocket program called Project NERVA, inside underground chambers at Jackass Flats, in Area 51's backyard. "Three test-cell facilities were connected by railroad, but everything else was underground," he says.

Photo: James Dale

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