Area 51 is a military base, and a remote detachment of Edwards Air Force Base. It is located in the southern portion of Nevada in the western United States, 83 miles (133 km) north-northwest of downtown Las Vegas. Situated at its center, on the southern shore of Groom Lake, is a large military airfield. The base's primary purpose is to support development and testing of experimental aircraft and weapons systems.
The base lies within the United States Air Force's vast Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR), formerly called the Nellis Air Force Range (NAFR). Although the facilities at the range are managed by the 99th Air Base Wing at Nellis Air Force Base, the Groom facility appears to be run as an adjunct of the Air Force Flight Test Center (AFFTC) at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert, around 186 miles (300 km) southwest of Groom, and as such the base is known as Air Force Flight Test Center (Detachment 3).
Though the name Area 51 is used in official Central Intelligence Agency documentation, other names used for the facility include Dreamland,Paradise Ranch, Home Base, Watertown Strip, Groom Lake, and most recently Homey Airport. The area is part of the Nellis Military Operations Area, and the restricted airspace around the field is referred to as (R-4808N), known by the military pilots in the area as "The Box" or "the Container".
The facility is not a conventional airbase, as frontline operational units are not normally deployed there. It instead appears to be used for highly classified military/defense Special Access Programs (SAP), which are unacknowledged publicly by the government, military personnel, and defense contractors. Its mission may be to support the development, testing, and training phases for new aircraft weapons systems or research projects. Once these projects have been approved by the United States Air Force or other agencies such as the CIA, and are ready to be announced to the public, operations of the aircraft are then moved to a normal air force base. The intense secrecy surrounding the base, the very existence of which the U.S. government did not even acknowledge until July 14, 2003, has made it the frequent subject of conspiracy theoriesand a central component to unidentified flying object (UFO) folklore.