Why you can’t get close to secret airbases anymore. You can spot the camera stations on these secret bases by looking for a white dome shaped like a small observatory. One reason it is so difficult to get close to a National Test Range like Tonopah, China Lake, Groom Lake or White Sands is because there are large bore cameras planted all over the mountains to keep an eye on the ground when they are not pointed skyward. A typical set-up at a Test Range would include a ring of Cinetheodolites, Cinesextants and video cameras around the perimeter of the area where aircraft are flown or packages are dropped from aircraft to impact on the range.
A Cinetheodolite is generally a 70mm sequential camera that records events in real time while displaying dates, times, speed, altitude, etc. on the film.
They are usually pedestal mounted 24 inch or 36 inch focal length cameras with a single operator sighting through a reflecting telescope bore-sighted to the lens. A Cinesextant is a mobile or stationary mount bearing two, four or six long focal length surveillance cameras. The mount is electrically and hydraulically driven by servos actuated by an operator who sits in a seat between the lens barrels. A “joystick”, much like the control stick of an airplane is between the operator’s legs. Two switches may be found near the control. One switch arms the cameras; the second switch alerts the mission controller that the operator has acquired the target and is tracking.
A trigger on the control stick will fire all the cameras that have been selected by the mount operator. These cameras may include 16mm and 35 mm cine cameras and video cameras fitted to extreme focal length lenses by C-ring adapters. Focal lengths of the lenses may vary from 12 or 24 inches to 250 inches or greater. The lenses are basically large refracting terrestrial telescopes fitted to various cameras. All the lenses are boresighted to a spotting scope in the center of the mount and eye level with the seated operator.
Bore-sighting is accomplished by pointing the spotting scope at a large black and white checkerboard target several miles away, locking the mount, and adjusting all the cameras and lenses so they point at exactly the same line or patch on the distant target. These cameras and lenses are so precise that the mount operator may see and transmit images of objects as small as human faces at a distance of 40 to 50 miles away!
Transmission of images is accomplished by one of two methods simultaneously: Cine film which is taken to the base photo lab for processing, and video pictures in real time transmitted via microwave dish to a control center where it is both recorded and further transmitted to other distant stations. If you see a camera station on a mountain and you want to know if they are using real time video, look for a microwave dish. If you want to know where the control building is, just note which way the dish is pointing. Microwave is line-of-sight. All the dishes will point toward the control building or another microwave tower.
Eventually you can narrow it down to the last point of reception, whether it is on the base or at a control building located on the Test Range. Inside this building will be a number of technicians who are gathering information on the test vehicle by various means. Some information is via the video pictures; other information is from telemetry packages aboard the vehicle being observed. Radar operators will be present. Video technicians will be there, too. Photographers will be manning pedestal mounts on the roof of the building or at concrete platforms nearby.
A helicopter pad will be present. The mission controller (the guy who counts ’em down) and the Range Boss reside there during days when operations are being conducted. Normally, like most other government facilities, operations are not conducted during the weekends (but not always). You can spot the camera stations on these secret bases by looking for a white dome shaped like a small observatory. They work exactly the same way. Doors crank open electrically and the dome turns 360 degrees. Cinetheodolites are generally found atop concrete buildings surrounded by high, barbed-wire fences.
The Cinesextants may be mounted “free-standing” inside a dome atop a tower 60 to 80 feet tall.
They may also be found as mobile mounts on four-wheeled trailers and covered with heavy plastic shrouds to protect the lenses and cameras from the heat and weather. All are kept inside the fence behind locked gates. The mount can be manipulated to depress below 0§, or below the horizon, and can be elevated to the zenith or 90§. It can also be rotated through 360§ azimuth, all quite rapidly, to track supersonic aircraft, missiles, bombs and other weapons. Generally speaking, an aircraft flying at 30,000 to 40,000 feet (7 miles) can easily be acquired and tracked from as far away as 50 to 60 miles slant range.
If the aircraft is as large as a C-130, the field of view with the largest lens might only cover the loading ramp! Some years ago Operations Department at El Centro, California, winter home of the Blue Angels, witnessed the real-time live crash of one of the aircraft because one of our Cinesextant operators was tracking them on an adjacent range, about 25 miles away, during a lull in our drops. Other cameras you are likely to find on these secret bases are shorter focal length types mounted in 6×6 trucks or other vehicles capable of maneuvering in desert areas.
The pedestals remain in the truck but the cameras are removed when not in use. A variety of hand-held still and motion picture and video cameras are also used around these test sites. Focal lengths will vary from 35mm to 50mm on still cameras to 250 inches and up on the Cinesextants. Some of the lens barrels are 10 to 15 feet in length and 12 to 16 inches in diameter. The cine cameras are capable of recording events from about 6 frames per second to thousands of frames per second (extreme slow motion) for precise analysis of the object being tested.
Shutters may be standard “butterfly” types as found on most older cine cameras (Mitchell, Milliken and Arriflex) to rotating prisms and mirrors on more sophisticated types operating at extreme high speeds. Film sizes may be 16mm, 35mm and 70mm, and all sizes and camera types may be included on any single Cinesextant mount which could bear and fire as many as six cine and video cameras at one time. Film types used would include color film with speeds of ASA 500 or even greater, usually pushed to ASA 1000 or greater for processing, and black and white Shellburst, a minus blue data recording film originally designed to accurately record ordnance explosions.
Shellburst has haze filters built in so aircraft really stand out when flying at high altitudes! (Are you paying attention?) Shellburst is available in 35mm and 70mm format at most large camera/film stores by special order. Other film used at some bases is Infrared for night sorties to record exhausts, surface heat, crew heat, flight track, shell fragments, trajectories, in SLIR/FLIR devices*, etc. Infrared is also available from large suppliers in 35mm and 70mm format. The whole point of this report is: If you want to record what they record, you must use the same hardware and film they use!
If you have enough money and plenty of time, you could even lease a Cinesextant all set up and ready to haul to the high desert. If you know someone who works for a company like COHU, you might even beg a video camera and nightscope with a monster lens to take a few shots. If you know someone who works for a motion picture company, you might talk them into pointing their camera starward some desert night to see what they can see. Rising lights are not enough to create profiles of UFOs. Several aircraft can rise vertically, hover and fly off in horizontal flight, although I know of none that do so silently.
We need SHAPES! If I see a Spanloader or “Boomerang” rise vertically, hover and fly away, I won’t be unduly impressed.
If, however, I see an ovate ellipsoid or a skirted sphere doing the same thing, I can conclude that I have seen that which we commonly call a “Flying Saucer” or UFO. It is important to understand that an aircraft based on a standard wing design must rely on aerodynamic lift to keep it airborne after it changes to horizontal flight. That makes it an airplane, not a flying saucer. But a sphere or ellipsoid would remain airborne by virtue of some energy other than the shape of the wing or hull. It must be rendered massless or weightless by an anti mass field and be propelled by some electrodynamic engine unlike any we now know.
That may be classified as a UFO or Flying Saucer. An ellipsoid or sphere without its surrounding field would have the glide coefficient of a Grand piano! An aircraft built upon an aerodynamic wing can glide, however slightly these days, by virtue of the air passing around the shape. Craft designed to swim the oceans of space do not require aerodynamic shape; they could be perfect cubes or polygons and not be affected by the void. But if you see a craft with a “wing”, you can bet your last dollar it was built on Earth by Earthlings for use in Earth’s atmosphere (at least part of the time) or it wouldn’t be a wing in the first place.
If you can get pictures of these aircraft without violating any laws, do it, so we can eliminate them from our list of things that go bump in the night. But remember: The camera operators, who can spot and track you from their mountain perches for 50 miles are connected directly to the control building and every other camera operator, as well as to the base and the Security Forces via FM radio and via the real time live video transmissions by microwave.
Additionally, because a rather imposing satellite array is stationed at Groom Lake, we should assume the pictures are also capable of being transmitted directly to CIA or NPIC, or both, in Washington, D.C. by way of their COMINTELSAT as the events occur. That means if you step behind a bush to pee, several hundred people will be watching. I know because we used to see people doing it in the desert adjacent to our range. The pictures went live to NAS Operations. When I tell you they know when you go pottie and where, I am as serious as a heart attack.
If you get into their territory and one person sees you, he will inform every other mount operator and Control, who will inform Security, who will buzz out to see if they can add you to the endangered species list. Security personnel at secret bases like Groom Lake may be civilian contractors, they may be Air Force personnel, or they may be CIA people. But if I had to hire some mean, reliable guys to keep my secret base secure, I would round up some of those former members of the CIA Shadow Companies (SOG) who were classified as MIA or KHA in Vietnam so they could operate in the provinces around the Plain of Jars in Cambodia with complete impunity.
These guys are already dead, so who would be looking for them if someone finds you’ve gone missing? They could fairly well do what they wanted, and they are the people I would hire to protect my secret base. Chances are, if I’ve thought of that, so have a lot of other people who spend most of their time thinking about just those kinds of things. For these reasons, it would be prudent to consult reliable charts before you go traipsing off to take pictures around Groom Dry Lake, Nevada (or anywhere else for that matter).
* SLIR/FLIR: Side-Looking Infrared and Forward-Looking Infrared cameras are generally mounted in all aerial recon aircraft and in a number of attack and ground support aircraft. Coupled with radar systems, these cameras are capable of “seeing” hundreds of miles inside enemy territory.