formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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February 9, 2016 The place that wasn't there

The Liberty Gazette
February 9, 2016
Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Scanning the dimly lit instrument panel as we cruise along in the wee hours of the morning, the radio is mostly silent and all that can be heard is the hissing and rumbling of air moving past our airplane traveling at eighty percent of the speed of sound. The lights of Las Vegas have recently drifted by the starboard side of the aircraft and we’ve been at 35,000’ for over half an hour on our regular Phoenix-Reno route. In the goopy black cloaked landscape below, small clusters of lights are sparsely scattered about. There’s one set of lights here, off to our right side, which I happen to know fascinates a peculiar group of people.

My co-pilot is busy filling out the aircraft maintenance log so I turn behind him and address our jump-seater.

"You see the lights out there?"


"No you don’t. They doesn’t exist."

On the aeronautical charts (maps) for this area is depicted a dry lake, about 76 miles north of Las Vegas in the middle of restricted airspace; it’s Groom Lake, also known as Area 51 - "where they store dead aliens," according to some.

These days when I’m conducting a training scenario that requires a long runway I ask pilots the trivia question: where is the longest paved runway in North America? They usually answer with Cape Kennedy or Edwards Air Force Base. True, Edwards has a very long dry lakebed runway covering almost six and a half miles, but it’s not paved. Denver International’s 16,000’ Runway 34L is the longest at a commercial airport.

The concrete at Groom Lake, however, stretches continuously over 29,000 feet. It isn’t really a single runway, but four of them laid end-to-end. Supposedly, when one portion was opened others were closed. Satellite imagery shows the long runway is marked with X’s its entire length, meaning it is no longer in use. They’ve built yet another 11,000’ runway next to it.

I don’t know what spooky things happen there, but they say that while one test program is being conducted the people involved in others must remain underground or indoors with the shades drawn.

Legend has it that one day a Cessna pilot got lost while flying over the desert and wandered over the top-secret base, not depicted on his chart. Low on fuel and seeing this long runway, he took a chance and landed. Upon landing his plane was surrounded by high security types. With M-16s pointed at him, they hauled him away for interrogation that lasted three days. Finally deciding he was telling the truth about being lost, they fueled his plane, pointed him in the direction of Las Vegas and said, "Don’t come back."

A week later the same Cessna landed there again. As the enforcers surrounded the plane the pilot shouted, "Do whatever you want with me, but please tell my wife where I was for those three days!"

As I look at that "Classified" cluster of lights, the legend of the poor Cessna pilot makes me chuckle. How could they oblige, when this place "doesn’t exist"?

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