Friday, September 12, 2014

Author Event: AREA 51 BLACK JETS


AREA 51 Black Jets: A History of the Aircraft Developed at Groom Lake, America’s Secret Aviation Base,
by Bill Yenne

The noted aviation historian Bill Yenne has just published an impressive overview of the history of the planes developed in the mysterious region of Nevada known as AREA least a history of all that we know or has been declassified about a region whose shroud of secrecy has given rise to some of the wildest speculations of conspiracy theorists and alien hunters. Yenne’s book is about some of the real aircraft that have been tested in AREA 51 during the past 60 years. The color “black” refers both to the actual color of some of the high-flying surveillance aircraft and fighters that were tested in AREA 51 but also gives a nod to the origin of these planes as secret high-security projects that were kept in the “black.” His book is a story that should be of particular interest to residents here in Burbank, because AREA 51 in the Nevada Test Range was developed by Lockheed with the U.S. Air Force and the CIA beginning in 1955, and many of the major aircraft designed by Lockheed and its famous Advanced Development Division--“Skunk Works”--were tested there, including the U-2, the “Archangel” or “Oxcart” A-12 (the fastest air-breathing airplane in the world at that time, the progenitor of the famous SR-71) the “Stealth” F-117 Nighthawk fighter, and the “Darkstar” and “Polecat” drones, which led to the RQ-170 spy drone.

SR-71 “Blackbirds” being assembled at the famous Lockheed B-6 plant in Burbank

After more than 60 years in Burbank, Lockheed left the city in the early 1990s. The company was a major part of the history of Burbank. This book and Yenne’s upcoming talk are chances for many of the residents who worked for Lockheed in the time after World War II to recollect an important part of their own lives and that of the City of Burbank. It is also a chance to introduce a new generation to the important history of their city and its relationship to the defense of the nation during the Cold War.

Yenne’s book reviews all of the major projects of AREA 51--those of Lockheed's as well as those of other aircraft companies. The book gives a meticulous account of the complicated strategic origins and developmental stages of the projects, both those projects that reached full development and testing and those that were cancelled. Yenne includes a chapter that speculates on the types of projects that may be currently under development in AREA 51. Understanding and decoding the numbers assigned by the Air Force to various planes is an arcane science (especially since some of the numbers assigned were deliberately misleading), but Yenne provides assistance regarding the various craft names and program acronyms in a glossary at the back of the book (it’s about 100 entries long, and believe me, unless you are very familiar with aircraft history you’re going to need this). The book has a good bibliography and index. Certainly the glory of this book is the wealth of beautiful maps, photographs, and illustrations. They are not only outstanding (from company and private collections) but they are superbly integrated with the text, and their captions supplement the text and add to our understanding.

The M-21 was a variant of the A-12 Archangel (“Oxcart”) that carried the D-21 drone.
It is too often the case that in well designed and spectacularly illustrated books, the writing takes a back seat and is frequently perfunctory, inaccurate, or even borrowed wholesale from some other published source. That is not the case here. Yenne is a fine writer, something demonstrated by both his structuring of the narrative and his prose. In the sections of the book in which technical matters are explained, the writing is reserved. Clarity has been his priority. But in both his introduction, and especially in his epilogue, he is more expansive and writes in a prose style that frames the more workmanlike parts of the survey beautifully. The description of his visit to AREA 51 is particularly evocative, and helps us understand our own fascination with the subject. Mystery, mixed with wonder at what we have come to learn of the amazing technology that has been developed in this area, make for a combination that has an irresistible draw. AREA 51 is a place where the envelope is broken, where technological achievements that we may not have imagined, much less thought possible, are made a reality. It is a place where the great creativity and problem-solving ability of human beings is, paradoxically, on display behind a veil of secrecy. Yes, we place a trust that it is a place where work is being done to protect our freedom and security. But more than that, the place has come to represent a belief and a hope in our own abilities. That is what makes AREA 51 Black Jets both an enjoyable and compelling story. What next will fly out of there? Keep an eye to the open skies...rare birds are on the wing.

Please join us for this event. We’re offering AREA 51 Black Jets to those who attend this event at a significantly lower price than you would find at a bookstore or online, not to mention the added fillip of the author's autograph!

The cockpit of the SR-71 "Blackbird"

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