Exclusive Area 51 Pictures: Secret Plane Crash Revealed
Published: 6:59 AM 6/3/2011
Area 51 Spy Plane, Intact
Photograph from Roadrunners Internationale via Pangloss Films
Suspended upside down, a titanium A-12 spy-plane prototype is prepped for radar testing at Area 51 in the late 1950s. After a rash of declassifications, details of Cold War workings at the Nevada base, which to this day does not officially exist, are coming to light—including never before released images of an A-12 crash and its cover-up.
Area 51 was created so that U.S. Cold Warriors with the highest security clearances could pursue cutting-edge aeronautical projects away from prying eyes. During the 1950s and '60s Area 51’s top-secret OXCART program developed the A-12 as the successor to the U-2 spy plane.
Nearly undetectable to radar, the A-12 could fly at 2,200 miles an hour (3,540 kilometers an hour)—fast enough to cross the continental U.S. in 70 minutes. From 90,000 feet (27,400 meters), the plane's cameras could capture foot-long (0.3-meter-long) objects on the ground below.
But pushing the limits came with risks—and a catastrophic 1963 crash of an A-12 based out of Area 51.
A rapid government cover-up removed nearly all public traces of the wrecked A-12—pictured publicly for the first time in this gallery, thanks to the CIA's recent declassification of the images.
Stranded Far From Area 51
Photograph from CIA via Pangloss Films
Remnants of a crashed A-12 spy plane—including two engines and the shattered rear fuselage—litter the ground near Wendover, Utah, in a 1963 picture recently declassified by the CIA and published here for the first time.
Things went horribly wrong for test pilot Ken Collins (flying under his Area 51 code name Ken Colmar) when testing the plane's subsonic engines at low altitude. At 25,000 feet (7,620 meters), "the airplane pitched up and went up and got inverted and went into a flat incipient spin," Collins says in the new National Geographic Channel documentaryArea 51 Declassified.
(The Channel is part-owned by the National Geographic Society, which owns National Geographic News.)
From such a position, "you just can't recover. So I thought I’d better eject, so I ejected down, because I was upside down."
U.S. officials later asked Collins to undergo hypnosis and treatments of sodium pentothal (a "truth drug") to be sure he relayed every detail of the incident truthfully and correctly.
Photograph from CIA via Pangloss Films
An aerial photo shows a massive rapid-response team at the site of the A-12 crash near Wendover, Utah, in 1963.
After pilot Ken Collins had parachuted to the ground, he was stunned to be greeted by three civilians in a pickup, who offered to give him a ride to the wreckage of his plane. Instead, Collins got them to give him a ride in the opposite direction, by telling them the plane had a nuclear weapon on board—a prearranged cover story to keep the Area 51 craft a secret.
Soon a team of government agents appeared to direct a complete cleanup—and cover-up—operation. By the next morning, recovery crews had begun loading the wreckage on trucks for the return trip to Area 51 in Nevada.
No one else approached the wreck site or even learned of the crash during the next half century.
Removing the Evidence
Photograph from CIA via Pangloss Films
A government "sanitation" team uses heavy equipment, including bulldozers and cranes, to remove all traces of the A-12 spy plane from a 1963 crash site in the Utah desert.
"There was some debate over whether to dynamite the large sections of wreckage, to make identification by unauthorized personnel more difficult," said independent aerospace historian Peter Merlin.
Today that secrecy has outlived its use, according to CIA historian David Robarge, explaining why the crash photos have been declassified.
"CIA records managers review [information requests] case-by-case to determine whether the information sought is still sensitive on national-security grounds. In their judgment, the photos of the 1963 crash no longer are, and so they were declassified and released," Robarge told National Geographic News.
"In 2007 the CIA declassified over a thousand documents related to the OXCART program and published an unclassified history of it in conjunction with the acquisition from the Air Force of one of the nine remaining A-12 airframes," now on display at CIA headquarters, Robarge added.
Loading Spy-Plane Debris
Photograph from CIA via Pangloss Films
A crane hoists A-12 debris onto a flatbed truck at the site of the 1963 A-12 crash in Utah. Part of an engine nacelle and an exhaust ejector are visible at left.
Though the CIA has released some photos of the incident, officials remain mum about exactly who was involved in the cover-up and how it was carried out. "There’s nothing I can tell you about how [this or] any other incidents were or are handled," CIA historian David Robarge said.
Aerospace historian Peter Merlin, who has examined this crash site and several others involving secret aircraft, said he's pieced together at least part of the cover-up story.
"The A-12's fuselage and wings were cut apart with blowtorches and loaded onto trucks along with the tails and other large pieces," he said. "Smaller debris was packed in boxes."
Wreckage Under Wraps
Photograph from CIA via Pangloss Films
Before the cleanup, after pilots from Area 51 had reported that the wreck in Utah was still identifiable, crews quickly covered all large pieces with tarps.
"At the time of the crash, the OXCART program was a very closely kept secret, and any exposure of it—such as through a crash that got publicized—could have jeopardized its existence," the CIA's Robarge said.
"If U.S. adversaries used that disclosure to figure out what the program was about, they might have been able to develop countermeasures that would make the aircraft vulnerable.
"The U.S. government had to make sure that no traces of the 1963 crash might be found and give hostile powers insights into the engineering and aeronautical advances the program was making."
Pieces Left Behind
Photograph from Pangloss Films/NGT
Shards of titanium from the wrecked A-12 scatter the crash site as aerospace historian Peter Merlin recently searches the debris field with a metal detector.
Merlin's research into recently declassified documents on the OXCART project unearthed a memorandum that reported that all traces of the plane had been removed from the crash scene in 1963.
"My experience with crash sites, however, is that there is always something left," Merlin says in the Area 51 documentary.
And in fact recent investigations of the site have turned up parts of the plane's wing structure as well as cockpit remnants still bearing the stamp "skunk works"—the covert department of the defense contractor Lockheed, which worked on the plane.
Upside Down at Area 51
Photograph from Roadrunners Internationale via Pangloss Films
In an undated picture, a mock-up of the A-12 spy plane sits perched upside down on a testing pylon at Area 51—part of radar tests to reveal revealed how visible, or invisible, the design was to radar.
Area 51 staff had to regularly interrupt such tests and hurry prototypes into "hoot-and-scoot sheds"—lest they be detected by Soviet spy satellites.
The Soviets unwittingly provided raw materials for the unprecedented plane. The A-12 was about 93 percent titanium, a material then unheard of for aircraft design. Most of the men who built the craft are still wondering today how that metal was secretly sourced from inside the U.S.S.R., according to the new documentary.
Photograph courtesy NASA
Flying intelligence missions from 1966 to 1990, the U.S. Air Force's SR-71 Blackbird (pictured: dual-cockpit version, for training) was in many ways a product of Area 51 testing and an evolution of the A-12, which was decommissioned in 1968.
Compared to the A-12, the SR-71 was larger, carried more fuel, and featured sharp sides to improve both stability and stealth. Such advances led to numerous world records for altitude and speed—including a 64-minute flight from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., in 1990. (Related: "'Hitler's Stealth Fighter' Re-created.")
Today experts at Area 51 are likely working on the next generation of aircraft. But don't expect any information to emerge for several decades—despite the recent declassifications, CIA's Robarge still won't confirm the base exists. "Sorry," he said, "I can’t say anything about it."
ON TV: Area 51 Declassified premiered on the National Geographic Channel.
Whereas the Rendlesham Forest case has just been celebrating three decades of tying itself into ever more confusing knots, we’ve just passed the 30th anniversary of another, lesser-known episode which reveals some interesting aspects of the UFO mystery.
It happened on 31 August, 1980, at Golborne, Lancashire, when a woman who was a bit under the weather was sleeping on the settee to avoid disturbing her husband.
She was awoken by flames outside, and hurried to investigate. But this fire was in the sky, and a spectacular sight greeted her. Hovering above a nearby reservoir was a rounded object with a triangle of bumps in the base and a dark band round the middle.
Sparks were emerging and the surrounding sky was a misty pink. As she watched, a light was slowly lowered from the main object towards the water’s surface and retracted upwards before the object silently moved away.
Others who lived nearby independently reported the same thing, so the case looked promising.
Peter Hough investigated for NARO (Northern Anomalies Research Organisation), and we then assessed possible explanations. Two options were considered.
We had investigated sightings from near Rochdale in which glowing orange lights had been traced to youths mischievously launching home-made hot-air balloons using plastic bags and candles.
We saw similarities here – but many differences.
Another possibility centred on the fact that we were getting other similar reports from this part of south central Lancashire, often in the early hours, about small triangular objects and peculiar glowing lights.
One of our contacts was an MoD police officer who hinted that new technology was under development and being flown on test at night; thus, if seen, it would be reported as a UFO and effectively disregarded.
This was a form of prototype unmanned surveillance device. Was this what had hovered over Golborne?
NARO had no real way to decide, of course, as officially there was no such research project; whereas home-made balloons were very real.
However, the case took a mysterious turn when the main witness told Peter that a scientist with an American accent working for Jodrell Bank Science Centre had called and advised she not have anything to do with ‘cranks’ from the UFO field, but invited her to go to Jodrell to assist in further investigation.
We were puzzled for many reasons – not least because we worked with Jodrell and knew their interest in UFOs was peripheral (they were even routing sightings received at their switchboard to me for follow-up, and still do decades later).
Ultimately, the witness just stopped cooperating. She had agreed to meet us, but appeared to flee the house when Peter and I arrived, leaving the back door open and food cooking on the grill.
Later she told me she was called away, but now did not want to talk further. At a dead end, we wondered why this witness had suddenly become so uncooperative.
I was never able to forget the Golborne case, because the following year there seemed to be a rerun in the Rossendale Valley, about 30 miles (50km) north-east of Wigan. This time there were four independent sets of witnesses.
A Moon-like glow was first seen around 10.45 pm on 15 June 1981, at Stackteads. It was heading into the wind (with the Moon itself also visible through breaks in the cloud).
Three miles (4.8km) west at Rawtenstall, an orange/yellow mass was seen by a woman through her curtains; she watched as it hovered over an artificial ski slope, again surrounded by a glowing mist, then dropped a glowing light towards the ground.
The woman promptly called the Lancashire police, who logged the call at 1.05 pm.
Meanwhile, two other women close by the ski slope had a much clearer view of this behaviour.
They saw the golden object approach and described what it dropped as unfolding like a rope ladder, but made out of seemingly solid light.
A second projectile then emerged from the base of the oval mass and again behaved unlike any ordinary light beam. The oval was last seen – by another witness – disappearing into the distance over Helmshore.
The parallels were immediately obvious and I have since documented a small but consistent group of these cases that describe what UFO researchers term “solid light.”
The beam appears sharp and well defined like a laser, but opens and retracts quite differently from any mundane beam, acting like a solid object that can be unfurled.
Witnesses have used terms such as “rope ladder,” “snail feelers,” and “expanding telescope of light” to describe it.
Our initial theory about home-made hot air balloons seemed to work. We knew that if you warm the air in a plastic bag it causes it to rise skyward, but the flame from the candle can then melt the plastic, causing it to dribble away and seem from a distance like a burning probe or ladder being released towards the ground.
But with the emergence of further ‘solid light’ evidence over the years, we have had to reconsider.
Objects seen moving into strong winds or hovering (as at Golborne) for up to 15 minutes negate the idea of any type of fire balloon.
Moreover, as regular reports in FT over the past three years have shown, we now have much evidence of how witnesses report actual fire balloons in the form of Chinese lanterns, and they behave in a markedly different way from the ‘solid light’ reports here.
So what was responsible for these intriguing cases? Was it really some kind of covert research project? Or could they have been examples of UAPs (unidentified atmospheric phenomena)?
That possibility is enhanced by an odd report I received recently. It occurred at St. Margaret’s Bay, Kent, in July 1966 as a man was driving during a torrential rainstorm.
The terrible conditions caused him to stop, and as he did so the air around him became heavily charged and a hissing noise began.
Then, a swirling column of opaque light appeared in the form of a mist. It formed a ‘beaker’ and – incredibly – the rain that was pelting down was hitting the sides of this glowing ‘beaker’ of mist and bending at sharp angles, as if it the opaque light were a solid barrier.
In my latest research, I am finding suggestions that this phenomenon shares attributes with ball lightning.
Perhaps these cases are of some kind of ‘super ball lightning’ so odd in its manifestation that it gets reported as a UFO. Hopefully, scientists will look at this intriguing data.
Eight Unknown, Solid Objects Observed over Aventura, Florida
Published: 4:36 PM 6/3/2011
Aventura, Florida, 05-14-11
This was in daylight, and they were definitely "solid" objects.
There were exactly eight of them, and they were in two groups of 3 each, and then there were 2 more trailing behind.
They were traveling pretty much due north, and I spotted them when they were due west of me. Unfortunately, they were actually at their CPA when I first saw them, and so the best part of the sighting was right at the beginning.
The sky beyond them was a pale yellow, and consisted of a smoky overcast back-illuminated by the sun, which was fairly low in the sky. (We've been having huge brush fires out west in the glades, and so for the last three days or so, the sky has been a brownish overcast most of the time, and you can smell smoke most of the day...).
The objects themselves were between 1 and 2 miles away. (It's hard to estimate the distance because they were just silhouetted against the sky, and there were no buildings or mountains or anything to use as a gauge.)
Similarly, the altitude was between 2000 and 5000 feet by my best guess. If they were 1 mile away, then they were at about 2,000 feet.
If they were more like 2 miles away, then the altitude was probably about 5,000 feet. (If they were any farther than that, then they were HUGE.
But by the way, they were moving so deftly around each other, I got the impression that they were only about 30-40 feet in diameter.)
Their color was indeterminate, and as they were silhouetted against the yellow sky, they appeared black or dark gray.
Their speed was MUCH faster than any aircraft would be normally traveling at that altitude. Of course, if they were high and far enough away for 500 mph to be a "normal speed," then their size would have been in the neighborhood of several hundred feet across.
There was also no sound whatsoever. And if by some chance they were propelled by air-breathing engines, then there would have definitely been a substantial sound made by eight aircraft at that approximate distance, moving at that approximate speed.
As it was though, there was no sound whatsoever. They moved completely silently, and with a sort-of "slippery" type of motion.
They were not travelling in perfectly straight lines. But instead, they were zig-zagging slightly, which was causing their relative positions in their loose formations to change substantially as they moved across the sky.
Each of the groups of three remained "intact," although the relative positions of the various crafts within each group seemed to change, almost as though they were "trading places" with each other within the formation.
The total length of time of the sighting was about 20 seconds.
There were dark, ominous clouds to the north, and about halfway through the sighting, the background changed from pale yellow to a bluish-gray color, and they became harder to see at that point.
They were not only getting farther away with each passing second, but there was much less contrast between them and the background sky once they left the pale yellow area.
I am a former airline pilot with approximately 12,000 hours, and I've flown equipment ranging from Cessna to Boeing 727s. I have 20/10 distant vision, and I am absolutely certain that the objects I witnessed were not helicopters, balloons, blimps, birds, floating debris carried by the wind, or any type of fixed-wing aircraft.
1966 - Melbourne, Australia - The Westfall Encounter
Published: June 4, 2011
by Jewel Topsfield
Suzanne Savage Photograph by Joe Armao
Illustrations by Lee Whitmore
ON APRIL 6, 1966, students from Westall High School and Westall State School claimed to have seen a mysterious metallic flying object hover above them before descending behind trees in Clayton South.
Many more say they later saw the perimeter of a perfect circle singed into the grass at the Grange Reserve near Westall State School.
The Age reported the next day that hundreds of children and a number of teachers saw the unidentified flying object, which the paper said might have been a weather balloon.
The article said witnesses had seen a number of small planes circle around the object - however, a check later showed that no commercial, private or RAAF pilots had reported anything unusual in the area.
But despite the many witnesses, exactly what happened at 11 am that day in Cold War-era Melbourne suburbia has remained a mystery.
Suzanne Savage, who was in form 2 at Westall High in 1966, recalls principal Frank Samblebe holding a special assembly after she and her science class saw a ''classic saucer-shaped object'' descend into Grange Reserve and then disappear into the sky.
''He said he didn't want to hear any more about this nonsense. We were not to discuss it ever again - and so I didn't,'' Ms Savage told The Saturday Age.
Ian Cochrane, who was in form 3 at Westall High in 1966, also believes the bizarre occurrence was covered up.
Mr Cochrane recalls returning to Grange Reserve the following Saturday to show his mates the perfect circle of flattened grass, only to discover the site had been dug up.
''If you talked about it you'd get nutbags to contend with, or people who couldn't cope, so you just didn't talk about it,'' Mr Cochrane said.
What did the students see? Was it a UFO from outer space, a secret military aircraft, a meteorological oddity or an example of a psychological phenomenon, where people were influenced by each other to believe in something they did not really see?
Forty-five years later Shane Ryan is still searching for answers. The English teacher has spent the past six years investigating the flying saucer enigma, which he believes ranks alongside the daylight school-based UFO sightings in Broad Haven in Wales in 1974 and Ruwa in Zimbabwe in 1994.
''It's obvious to me people saw something very strange and unusual and somebody in the government didn't really want the story to get out,'' he said.
Mr Ryan has interviewed more than 300 people connected to the case, 89 of whom claim they saw a flying saucer and 138 who saw the circle. He said several witnesses told of police and men in military uniforms who cordoned off the landing site and interviewed some students.
However, despite extensive searches, Mr Ryan has been unable to find police or military personnel who attended on the day or locate documents that may be held by state and federal government agencies.
''I'm so frustrated that after all these years I can't get an official answer about why the powers that be were there that day and why they didn't want the students to talk about what they saw,'' he said.
Mr Ryan's search for the truth is the subject of the documentary Westall 66: A Suburban UFO Mystery, directed by Rosie Jones, which will screen at 8.30 pm on Tuesday on the Sci Fi Channel on Foxtel and Austar.
The Australian Teachers of Media have also created a study guide around the event, which can be used in the national history curriculum.
The study guide says Westall 66 reflects a fascinating and pivotal period in world history. ''With its undercurrent of Cold War paranoia, secret US airbases and a strong military relationship between Australia and America, this story raises questions about the acceptability of cover-ups and untruths delivered by governments in the interests of national security,'' it says.
Study guide co-writer Lee Burton says these are themes that have repercussions today. ''This is an example of how we can help students understand an historical event within a local community that occurred in living memory,'' she said. ''My guess is it will be very popular.''
People with more information about the Westall incident can contact Shane Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to westall66ufo.com.au.
Shining, Disc-shaped UFO Hovers, Disappears over United Arab Emirates
Published: 1:50 PM 5/31/2011
United Arab Emirates - 05-30-11
To describe the conditions this morning, it was a clear sky, i.e. no clouds in the sky (just the blue sky).
Weather conditions were, 28-29 degree centigrade, no wind or dust in the atmosphere and low humidity conditions.
It was bright as the sun was up already, hence no chances of any mistakes.
I am an Indian national living with my wife in Sharjah (United Arab Emirates). Every morning I drive my wife to work, since the last five years.
We take the same route every day, which is a very short one, on the path of which I can recognize all the structures.
This morning, 6:50 AM (30th May 2011), I was driving my wife to work.
I stopped at a big round-about to go left. I was looking towards my left hand side where I was checking for passing by vehicles, when my eyes met this really shiny object just hovering at an approximate height of 300-350 ft.
This object was simply hovering without any noise or movement. It was really shiny, the texture which could be best described like that of stainless steel surface (because of the factor as to how the sun light was bouncing off of it).
It just hanging there, when my wife also saw it.
The object was a typical disc-shaped, saucer-like UFO.
I could tell it was a disc-shaped object as it just on its side just for a bit revealing the shape. I witnessed it for nearly 20 seconds, with me and my wife sitting in my car at the round-about just staring at it when it simply just disintegrated into thin air; it just vanished right in front of our eyes.
Before, I had noticed certain huge round shaped shadows being casted to the ground, just to look up and see nothing.
Also, other phenomenon like strange sky scars that cannot be formed by any airplane. It was very phenomenal for us to witness a UFO for the first time in our lives.
Unfortunately, since I was in my car with the engine on, I could not get a chance to grab a picture of it, also because I was dumb-struck just looking at it.
It was no weather phenomenon, no visual trick, no planet, no blimp, no swamp gas, nothing else but a UFO.
Feb-2008-A UFO with glowing lights has reportedly spent thirty hours on the ground in an isolated area of Mexico about a hundred miles east of Acapulco. The object landed in the early morning hours of December, 2007 near Mezcala, Mexico and emitted flashes of light.
It was observed by the entire community, including local citizens and personnel at a local gold mine. Witnesses described a saucer-shaped craft that passed over the town square slowly and silently, then landed on a hill locally known as Pie de Minas, Mine Hill.
It remained on the hill, emitting bursts of flashes, for over 30 hours. There were physical injuries and electrical disturbances reported, as well.
Attempts to take videos and photos reportedly failed due to apparent distortions caused by the object. Even pictures taken with analog cameras were overexposed. Such problems have often been reported in connection with UFO close encounters, and witnesses also reported eye irritation despite the fact that they did not approach the object.
It was in an area approachable only by hiking for a number of hours or using an all-terrain vehicle.
Whether or not anybody got close to the object or was successful in taking video or photographs is not yet known. The case is under investigation by the Institute of Hispanic UFOlogy, and they hope to enter the area where the craft landed and search for any evidence of its presence.