Oh, Area 51, don’t ever change. America’s spookiest Air Force facility has a firm hold on the world’s imagination and continues to spark speculation conspiracy theories about UFOs and secretive weapons and aircraft. The latest Area 51 weirdness was reported this week by Tyler Rogoway at aviation blog The Drive and seems to suggest the classified operations show no signs of stopping in the skies above Groom Lake.
Despite the fact that nearly all of this testing is highly classified, there is only so much the Air Force can keep a secret due to the fact that much of the armed service’s flight data remains open to the public. Aviation watchdogs poring over this data noticed a strange flight which took place on September 20th earlier this year, flying with no callsign - the first suggestion that something strange was going down. Even stranger? The flight flew a repeated loop directly over the secretive Area 51 facility in the middle of the night. After four hours, the aircraft headed southwest before disappearing.
The aircraft has been identified as a Boeing NKC-135 Stratotanker, usually used for in-flight refueling operations. This particular aircraft, identified with the serial 61-0320, is a highly modified tanker which has been particularly busy in 2018 flying missions out of Area 51’s host facility, Edwards Air Force Base.
The flight’s entire path can be seen here. Note that on this flight data website, a glitch caused two separate flights to be combined into one. That other flight, ten hours later, saw the same aircraft fly over desolate, unpopulated areas in the desert before making a similar loop over the ocean west of Vandenberg Air Force base. That second flight featured the appropriately spooky callsign “GHOST 57.”
In all likelihood, this tanker was refueling highly classified and experimental aircraft flying out of Edwards - but that makes it no less mysterious and fascinating. Then again, why spend so much time in the air directly above Area 51? That airspace is usually restricted and test flights rarely enter. What was being tested in the remote Nevada desert?