This Area 51 panorama was taken under exceptionally good viewing conditions in the early morning hours of August 7, 2005 from the top of Tikaboo Peak. It is by far the best and as of this writing the most recent Area 51 Panorama from Tikaboo Peak ever published. The panorama is split into three segments, going from south to north. Click on any photo for a large, commented version with 1/2 meter resolution. The description of new buildings is marked in bold font in the comments below.
The panorama was assembled from 16 individual photos, taken with a Canon D-60 digital camera mounted to a Celestron C-5 spotting scope. The effective focal length was 2000mm. The full-sized panorama is 1/4-meter resolution.
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This section shows some remote facilities at the far south end of the base. Moving from left to right (south to north):
The two light-colored buildings in the background on the left are the Engine Test Cells. This is where new jet engines are tested. Due to noise and the possibility of an explosion it makes sense to have them as far away from the main base as possible. The scraped area behind the left Test Cell is a waste burial site. It has not changed much since 1995, and it is not clear whether it is still in use.
Further to the right, the circular area with the long light-colored building is the Explosives Storage Area. Notice that the entire area is surrounded by a mound of dirt to protect the rest of the base in case of an accident.
In front of the Explosives Storage you can see the south end of the two runways and the southern taxiway and holding pad. Two red-and-white arresting devices, designed to catch planes that are about to overshoot the runway, can be seen at the south end of the new runway (14L/32R).
Further over to the right, at the foot of Papoose Mountain, is a large scraped area. This is a large gravel pit and concrete plant. It supplies the building material for new construction at the base, such as runway extensions etc. This photo shows that what looks like an underground tunnel entrance in older panoramas and satellite images is really a truck ramp, where trucks dump their load onto the conveyor below. There is a large parking area for construction vehicles on the far right side of this segment.
In front of the gravel pit is the South Trim Pad, where engine tests and adjustments are performed. Clearly visible the jet deflector and the South Pad Weather Office.
This section shows the South Base area, with the southern ramp and hangars:
To the right of the gravel pit discussed above is the main fuel storage area of the base. There used to be eight large fuel tanks, which were left over from the A-12 spy plane development at Area 51 in the 1960's. Most of the tanks have been removed in early 2001, only the southern two remained. In early 2003 two large new fuel tanks were installed to replace the older tanks. The brown building near the fuel truck parking area is probably a fire station or maintenance building.
In front of the fuel storage area and to the right is a site with aircraft communications and navigation equipment. Several tall antenna poles can be seen next to the left building. Another antenna pole is further to the right.
Behind it is another parking area with construction vehicles surrounding a vehicle maintenance building. In the background is the Area 51 "Boneyard". This is where abandonned projects and prototypes end up after they reach the end of their usefulness. Some test platforms, such as the Boeing Bird of Prey or Northrop's Tacit Blue, are stored in the hangars here for years, before finally being declassified and placed in a museum. Others are being disassembled and never see the light of the "White World". The long white building to the right is the shooting range, facing away from us (and from the base).
Now we are getting to the South Ramp area, and to some interesting new additions. The South Ramp has been re-paved in summer of 2003, several new buildings were added and there is still some construction equipment visible in the area. This part of the base is clearly getting ready for a major new project to move in. This new project is likely related to the development and test of a larger UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) or UCAV (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle). UCAVs are a fairly new technology, but have already proven their usefulness in recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. The first generation of UCAVs, the MQ-1 Predator, is armed with two laser-guided Hellfire missiles. Newer UCAVs are expected to be larger, and to be designed for much greater payloads.
The building in the foreground, surrounded by a mound of dirt, is the weapons assembly and storage facility. As with the explosives storage area described above, the surrounding wall of dirt is designed to deflect a blast in case of an accident here. Behind it, in front of Hangars 9-16, is a large new hangar, built in spring 2005. It is much taller than the other hangars, which could indicate that it is used to mount a test vehicle on top of a carrier aircraft. Many new experimental high-speed aircraft, known as X-Planes, are carried to their operating altitude by a carrier aircraft, referred to as the Mothership. Hangars 9 through 16 were used for development of the A-12 "Oxcart", and its successor, the SR 71 "Blackbird". Both aircraft were reconnaissance platforms (or, less diplomatic: spy planes), designed for high altitudes (90,000ft.) and high speed (mach 3+). They were used until the early 1990's, in the gulf war. It appears that the long disused hangars 9-16 are part of the recent renovation, and that they will be used for the new project(s) mentioned above.
The long two-tone building in the back is Hangar 17. The two white double-hangars in front of it are Hangars 20 through 23, and the lower building to their left is an associated storage building. Hidden behind Hangar 22 is another new building, constructed in 2003. It is smaller, and connected to the surrounding hangars by underground pipes. Possibly a fuel storage or heating unit.
In front of that group of hangars, next to the weapons storage facility mentioned above, is Hangar 19. It is used for Weapons Arm and De-Arm of aircraft. In spring 2005 two extensions were constructed to the north and south, effectively tripling the size of this hangar. The purpose of this extension is not yet known, but it is interesting that the lower section of the extensions is open. This could indicate a need for good ventilation, possibly due to running jet engines. It appears that the extensions are designed to hide something from curious eyes. This is supported by the fact that the open section of the southern extension is hidden by an additional screen in the direction of Tikaboo. Whatever goes on here is obviously top secret! A new concrete ramp connects these hangars to the new Center Taxiway, constructed in spring of 2003. The new taxiway connects the South Ramp with the new runway 14L/32R.
In the background, on the slope of the Papoose Range, is a group water tanks. Originally there were only four white tanks. The three huge dark colored tanks were added between 1995 and 1999.
Further over to the right is Hangar 8, which is said to be used by Northrop Grumman. To the right of it is Fire Station #2 (#1 is near the four northern hangars). Sometimes the doors can be seen open, and we have seen the inside brightly lit at night, with what appeared to be a fire truck inside. The next building is the P.E. Building ("Personal Equipment"). This is where the pilots keep their flight gear, and prepare for their missions. It is surrounded by marked parking spaces and the only trees at Area 51.
Next to it is the huge Hangar 18. It is approximately 100 ft. tall, easily large enough for even the largest aircraft. A B747 could easily fit inside. It opens on both ends to make it easier for large planes to get in and out. The exact purpose is not known, but it is assumed that it is used for new developments. We have also seen Janet aircraft, Boeing 737 that are used to shuttle workers back and forth between Area 51 and Las Vegas, on the ramp north of it. So it may be used for maintenance work on the Janet fleet. Behind Hangar 18, partly visible on the right, is a connected office and support building.
The brown building further over to the right is the Security Building, the headquarters of the famous cammo-dudes. Area 51 security is split into several layers. The Cammo Dudes (so named after their camouflage outfit) are members of a private contractor, guarding the outer perimeter of Area 51. They can bee seen near the Groom Lake Road entrance of the base, keeping an eye on curious tourists. Security further inside is likely provided by Air Force Police.
The next building over contains several labs. It is known as "Photo Lab and Precision Measurement Equipment Lab (PMEL)".
Behind these two buildings are the old toxic waste burning pits. This is where until the early 1990's highly toxic waste products were burned in open trenches, including still classified and highly toxic byproducts of the stealth paint used for the development of the F-117 Stealth Fighter. After several workers got sick and even died from breathing the toxic fumes, the open burning has stopped and the area has been covered up with dirt.
This section shows the central part of the base and the North Base Area:
Next to the Security Building and the Labs discussed above, is the Janet Terminal. This is where the workers arrive when they fly in from Las Vegas on the unmarked Boeing 737's. When a Janet 737 is at the terminal you can see its white tail sticking up over the hills. In the mornings and evenings the terminal and ramp area are brightly lit by yellow floodlights. In front of the Janet Terminal is the Area 51 Control Tower, partially hidden by the Jumbled Hills in the foreground.
Behind the Terminal are three taller dormitory buildings. There are a total of 33 dormitory buildings that can house over 1000 civilian contractors and military personnel. Instead of flying home to Las Vegas every night the workers have the option to stay at the base during the week. There is a financial incentive for this, and many employees choose to do so. Most of the dormitory buildings in the central part of the base are single-story and barely visible from Tikaboo.
The next building to the right, almost hidden behind the Jumbled Hills, is the Test Engineering Support Center (TESC). This is the central intelligence repository of the base, containing data on various research projects in several vaults. Next to it, also partially hidden, is the Consolidated Services Facility, used by various services such as the base telephone service and electric power service. Further over to the right is the lower Base Supply and Administration Building. Behind it, among the group of smaller buildings are the Dining Hall, the Main Operations Building, from where all activities at Area 51 are being controlled, and Fire Station #1.
Behind these buildings, and various workshops and support buildings, is a fenced-in area that we don't know much about. Two fairly large hangars, clearly visible in these photos, have been added there in late 2002. It is interesting is that, although the hangars are side-by-side, one of the hangars is inside and one outside the fence.
The huge building next to this area on the right is the Shipping and Receiving Facility. Notice the A/C units on the roof, and the trucks parked all around it. On some nights the whole area is brightly lit with white floodlights. The S&R facility is located on the road coming in from the NTS via gate 700. On the other side of the road is a large parking area. This is where workers who drive in via Mercury and the NTS leave their private vehicles.
In front of this area and the old checkered water tower, with a dark colored roof, are some of the original hangars from the 1950's. They were used for development and test of the U-2 Spy Plane. This Lockheed "Skunkworks" project, and its need for secrecy, was the reason Area 51 was founded 51 years ago in this remote location.
Behind the old U-2 hangars, at the foot of the water tower, you can barely see the Green of the Area 51 baseball field. This is part of the base recreation complex, which also includes tennis courts, a gym, a swimming pool and a popular bar known as Sam's Place.
Continuing right from the water tower are Hangars 4 through 7, and the northern Ramp area. These hangars were used for the A-12 program, and later housed a fleet of Russian fighter jets that the U.S. Government acquired through various channels. These jets, flown by U.S. pilots known as the Red Hats, were used to evaluate their capabilities and weaknesses. This information of course gave U.S. pilots a huge advantage in air-to-air combat. The hangars are still known as the "Red Hat Hangars". It is not clear what these hangars are used for today, but we have seen light in some of them on several occasions, and one time we observed a plane taxi into one of the hangars.
The ramp area north of the Red Hat hangars is used for the security helicopters, which can often be seen parked here. The three MH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters can sometimes be seen patrolling the perimeter of the restricted area. The building in the background, with open sides and a gray roof, was added between 1998 and spring of 2000. It is connected to the North Ramp Area around the Red Hat Hangars.
The area to the north contains the DYCOMS and Quick Kill radar systems and various support buildings. DYCOMS stands for "Dynamic Coherent Measurement System", and is basically a radar cross section measurement system for the development of Stealth aircraft. The two large dishes are typically pointed straight up when they are not in use.
The Quick Kill radar site visible in the photo has two individual antennas near the south end of the dry lakebed. Two similar sites, connected to this one with underground lines, are located out of view east of the runways. Not much is known about these sites, but they appear to also be related to radar cross section measurements.
There are several smaller facilities scattered all over Emigrant Valley west and north of Groom Lake. Most of them are radar sites of various flavors, used to test the stealth capabilities of new developments. Some of these radar sites, and the road to Gate 700 and the NTS, can be seen on the right side of this section. A section of Groom Lake Road is visible on the far site of the dry lakebed of Groom Lake.
The facility on the far right is near Slater Lake. This man-made lake, surrounded by trees, was established in the 1960's as a recreation area for workers at the base. There are rumors that today it is surrounded by so many classified sites that access to the lake had to be restricted, even for most Area 51 personnel.