For years Area 51 has been a source of fascination for many people around the world.
The Air Force and Central Intelligence Agency have always claimed that Area 51 was a site for testing and developing the newest and most advanced aircraft in the world.
With that in mind, here are the top six spy planes that come from Area 51:
1. A-12 Oxcart
Launched in 1957, the A-12 Oxcart was part of Project Oxcart, which produced two of the fastest flying aircraft in the history of U.S. spy planes.
A-12, standing for Archangel-12, a one-seater aircraft with an extended fuselage, two jet engines and a distinctive cobra-like appearance.
The aircraft made its first flight over Area 51 in April 1962, before which the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ensured that air traffic controllers were to submit written reports of any unusual sightings of high-flying, fast planes instead of reporting these sightings over the radio:
Just after the first flight of the A-12, reports of UFO sightings reached a peak.
The A-12 attained the speed of Mach 3.2 (around 2200 miles per hour) at 90,000 feet in 1965, after which it began to fly missions over North Korea and Vietnam. It was retired from service in 1968.
2. SR-71 Blackbird
The SR-71 Blackbird spy plane was also launched as part of Project Oxcart. This was a two-seater plane that was heavier and longer than the A-12.
The SR-71 Blackbird also combined supersonic speed with a low radar profile. This was partly because of its sleek and tapered design along with its black radar-absorbing paint.
It was on July 28, 1976, that pilots flew the SR-71 at the record-breaking speed of Mach 3.3 (2193 miles per hour).
Even though it was retired from service in 1990, the SR-71 Blackbird remains one of the fastest aircraft in the world.
3. U-2 Dragon Lady
It was during the peak of the Cold War that the U-2 spy plane was developed under Project Aquatone:
This single-engine aircraft had glider-like wings and used a special fuel that was designed to allow the U-2 to fly at high altitudes.
The Shell Oil Company produced the unique low-volatility kerosene fuel for the U-2 to ensure that the fuel would not evaporate when it flies at high altitudes.
Even the pressurized suits for the U-2 pilots were specially designed and later went on to play an important role in the U.S. manned space program.
The U-2 remained one of the most important sources of intelligence on the USSR during the Cold War until it was finally retired by President Eisenhower.
4. Soviet MiG-21
Area 51 was also used for studying foreign warplanes that the military obtained secretly:
In the 1960s, the military got hold of a Soviet MiG 21 known as Fishbed-E. This Mach 2 jet fighter was reverse engineered to understand how it performed and compared to U.S. fighter jets.
This top secret program with the Soviet MiG-21 eventually led to benefits for the Air Force during the Vietnam War.
5. F-117 Nighthawk
One of the U.S.’ first stealth bombers, the F-117 Nighthawk, was designed in Area 51 under the project Have Blue:
The faceted, diamond-like surface of the aircraft was specially designed to reflect and disrupt any radar beams.
The F-117 Nighthawk was often mistaken for UFOs owing to its futuristic design.
Throughout 1991, the F-117 was used to bomb many high-valued targets in Baghdad during Operation Desert Storm.
6. Boeing YF-118G Bird of Prey
Boeing’s ultra-secret aircraft, Bird of Prey, was developed by the U.S. Air Force in Area 51. This was primarily a research and development aircraft that was not supposed to be mass-produced.
The YF-118G had a hawk-like appearance and was named so owing to its resemblance to the Klingons’ battlecruiser from Star Trek.
The YF-118G took its first flight from Area 51 in 1996, and it made a total of 38 flights before the program came to an end in 1999:
Boeing later donated this aircraft to the U.S. Air Force’s National Museum, though many of the more mysterious features of the plane still remain under wraps even today.