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Groom Lake Timeline

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Groom Lake Timeline

By Tom Mahood

Latest Revision: December, 1996

Significant and interesting events in the history of Groom Lake



Circa 1941-45:
Two dirt landing strips (one approx. 5,000′ and one 7,000′ long) are scraped into the bare desert floor, on the east side of Groom Lake. They are used as an outlying training strip for flyers based at Nellis. The strips are abandoned at the end of WWII and quickly deteriorate. 

April, 1955:
Lockheed test pilot, Tony LeVier, under orders from Kelly Johnson, searches for remote site to test the U-2. He finds Groom Lake and returns with Kelly Johnson and a representative of the CIA. Johnson decides to place the runway at the south end of Groom Lake. Work begins on the facility there under the direction of Lockheed Skunk Works. (1) 

July, 1955:
Work on “The Ranch” is complete at a cost of $800,000. It consists of three hangars, control tower, mess hall, runway, and numerous mobile homes. The first U-2 was shipped out on July 23. (1) 

July 24, 1955:
The first U-2 prototype is shipped via C-124 transport plane from the Lockheed Skunk Works in Burbank to Groom Lake. (9) 

August 4, 1955:
First flight of the U-2 at Groom Lake. (1) 

August 19, 1955:
Executive Order 10633 is signed by President Eisenhower restricting the airspace over Groom Lake for the first time. The rectangular airspace is an extension of the Test Site airspace (known as “The Las Vegas Project”) at its northeast corner and measures 5 by 9 nautical miles. (8) 

November 17, 1955:
A C-54 transport, enroute to Groom from Burbank, crashes into Mt. Charleston killing all aboard, 9 civilian workers and 5 military. (5) 

Fall, 1956:
Six pilots from SAC start training at Groom in the U-2. (1) 

April 4, 1957:
A U-2 with radar spoofing equipment (#341, the first prototype) crashes during testing near Pioche, killing the pilot. (1), (9) 

June 20, 1958:
Public Land Order 1662 is enacted by Roger Ernst, Assistant Secretary of the Interior, withdrawing 38,400 acres (60 square miles) for use “..by the Atomic Energy Commission in connection with the Nevada Test Site.” The area, 6 miles North/South and 10 miles East/West, forms the first “box” around the Groom base, beneath the already restricted airspace. 

September 21, 1959:
The USGS snaps a photo (13-146) of the Groom Lake base as part of a routine mapping program, which is still available. 

November, 1959:
A full scale mockup of an A-12 is shipped to Groom, via truck, for radar signature testing. (4) 

September, 1960:
Construction begins on a major expansion of the Groom Lake facility to accommodate the A-12 (OXCART) program on behalf of the CIA. This period of construction is not be complete until mid 1964. (4) 

September 7, 1960:
Work begins on lengthening and strengthening the existing 5,000′ runway to 8,500′. It is completed November 15. (4) 

August 11, 1961:
The newly created R-4808 restricted airspace becomes effective, covering the Test Site and Groom Lake. Use is restricted from the surface to FL600. The restricted airspace over Groom Lake remains 5 by 9 nautical miles in size. (8) (26 FR 6233) 

Late 1961:
Colonel Robert J. Holbury, USAF, is named Commander of the Groom base. (4) 

Early 1962:
The fuel tank farm is completed with a capacity of 1,320,000 gallons. (4) 

January 15, 1962:
The restricted airspace directly over Groom Lake (R-4808) is expanded to 22 by 20 nautical miles. The basis of the expansion was a request by the Department of the Air Force citing an immediate and urgent need due to a classified project. This creates the “Groom box” as it exists today. (8) (27 FR 205) 

February 26, 1962:
The first A-12 Blackbird (#121) is brought to Groom via truck for testing. (4) (Ben Rich says January, 1962) 

April 26, 1962:
First flight test of the A-12 Blackbird (#121) at Groom Lake. (4) 

February, 1963:
The first 5 CIA A-12 pilots (Collins, Ray, Skliar, Sullivan and Walter) arrive at Groom Lake. (9) 

May 24, 1963:
An A-12 (#123) crashes due to pitot icing 14 miles south of Wendover, Utah. The pilot, Collins, survives. (4) 

July 20, 1963:
An A-12 finally achieves Mach 3 in testing. (9) 

August 7, 1963:
First flight of the YF-12A (#1001) at Groom Lake. The YF-12A was a Mach 3 interceptor, based on the A-12 design. (9) 

July 9, 1964:
An A-12 (#133) crashes on final approach to Groom. The pilot, Park, ejects at an altitude of 500′ and survives. (4) 

Beginning 1965:
The OXCART construction project is now complete and the base population has reached 1,835. (4) 

December 28, 1965:
An A-12 (#126) crashes immediately after takeoff from Groom. The pilot, Vojvodich ejects and survives. (4) 

March 5, 1966:
First free flight test of the D-21 drone near Point Mugu, launched from a Blackbird out of Groom Lake. (9) 

July 30, 1966:
A D-21 drone is launched over Point Mugu, but strikes the A-12 (#135), destroying it. The two crew members eject, but one drowns before being pulled from the sea. All future launches of D-21 were to be done by B-52s. (9) 

The Defense Intelligence Agency acquires a MIG 21 which it ships to Groom Lake for testing and names the program “Have Doughnut”. This is the start of the ongoing MIG testing program that likely runs to this day. (9) 

January 5, 1967:
An A-12 (#125) runs out of fuel 70 miles east of Groom and crashes. The pilot, Ray, ejects, but fails to seperate from the seat and is killed. (4) 

January 10, 1967:
The decision is made to phase out the A-12s in favor of the SR-71. The phase out is to be completed by January, 1968. (9) 

May 22, 1967:
The first of the A-12s leave Groom for Kadena Air Base on Okinawa for the beginning of “Black Shield”, their first operational deployment. “Black Shield” involved reconnaissance flights over North Vietnam. (9) 

June 21, 1968:
The last flight of an A-12, #131, was made from Groom to Palmdale and the entire fleet was put in secret storage. (9) 

August 28, 1968:
The US Geological Survey snaps an aerial photo of the Groom Lake complex as part of a routine high altitude survey. This photo, since published in numerous places, was available to the public until early 1994, when it was withdrawn from release by the government. 

November 16, 1977:
“Have Blue” (#1001), the F-117A Stealth fighter prototype, is shipped to Groom Lake for flight testing. (9) 

December 1, 1977:
First flight of the Have Blue at Groom Lake. (2) 

May 4, 1978:
The first Have Blue prototype crashes at Groom after its landing gear is damaged and was unable to land. (2) 

July 20, 1978:
First flight of the second Have Blue prototype (#1002). (9) 

July 11, 1979:
The second Have Blue prototype crashes 35 miles NW of Groom, due to an engine fire. (1) 

May, 1981:
First production F-117A is airlifted to Groom for testing. (1) 

June 18, 1981:
First flight of the production F-117A Stealth fighter (#780) at Groom. (1) 

February, 1982:
First flight of “TACIT BLUE” (demonstrator for stealth technology) at Groom . (7) 

April, 1982:
The existence of the A-12 aircraft was finally declassified. (10) 

April 20, 1982:
The first production model of the F-117A crashes at Groom during Air Force acceptance tests. (1) 

October 15, 1982:
Beginning of acceptance flight tests with second production model of F-117A. (1) 

Late 1982:
First Stealth fighter squadron begins moving from Groom into new facilities at the Tonopah Test Range. (1), (9) 

April 18, 1983:
Four Greenpeace protestors trespassed just south of Area 51 on a 5 day trek to sneak into the Nevada Test Site. (9) 

June, 1983:
First flight of HALSOL at Groom Lake. HALSOL was a solar powered high altitude, UAV. The test program ran two months. (9) 

March, 1984:
The Air Force posts armed guards along the access points to the 89,000 acres of public land to the east and north of Groom, expanding the borders. The guards request the public not to enter the area, thus effectively (and apparently illegally) closing the land to public use. (9) 

April 26, 1984:
General Robert Bond is killed when the MIG 23 he was flying out of Groom crashes into Little Skull Mountain on the Nevada Test Site. (9) 

August, 1984:
In Congressional hearings concerning the land seizure, the Air Force representative (John Rittenhouse) makes the statement that while the Air Force had no legal authority to seize the land (as far as he knew) the decision to do so was made at a much higher level than his. He would only go into the details in a closed session. (5) 

Tacit Blueprogram ends. (7) 

December, 1987:
Congress finally authorizes the Air Force’s land seizure. (2) 

July 17, 1988:
A Soviet spy satellite takes a photo of the Groom Lake area destined for release in a number of publications, including Popular Science and The Lazar Poster

May, 1989:
Robert Lazar’s first interviews are broadcast on KLAS-TV in Las Vegas. Lazar states he had been hired to reverse engineer extraterrestrial craft at a facility at Papoose Lake, just southwest of Groom Lake. Lazar’s appearance focuses the first widespread public interest on the Groom Lake area. 

October 18, 1993:
The Air Force files a notice in the Federal Register seeking to withdraw another 3972 acres from public use to curtail public viewing of the Groom base from Freedom Ridge and Whitesides Peak. (3) 

April, 1994:
Popular Sciencemagazine appears, featuring a satellite photo of the Groom Lake base on its cover and containing a lengthy article on the base and its history, thus igniting mainstream media interest in the facility. 

April 10, 1995:
Freedom Ridge and Whitesides Peak are officially closed to all public access. (3) 

January, 1996:
The Bechtel Corporation is reported to have begun work lengthening the secondary runway (14L-32R) by 5,000′. (3)


1. Skunk Works by Ben Rich, published by Little, Brown & Company, 1994.

2. Dreamland – the Air Force’s Remote Test Site by Peter Merlin, an article in “Aerotech News and Review” 4/1/94.

3. Groom Lake Desert Rat by Glenn Campbell, various issues.

4. The OXCART Story by Thomas P. McIninch, a declassified history of the A-12 program from the CIA.

5. Los Angeles Times, November 19, 1955.

6. Alien Contact, by Timothy Good, published by Morrow, 1993.

7. Air Force press release 01-04-96

8. Federal Register

9. Dark Eagles by Curtis Peebles, published by Presido Press, 1995

10. Aurora: The Pentagon’s Secret Hypersonic Spyplane, By Bill Sweetman, published by Motorbooks International, 1993.

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