Lockheed Blackbirds History
Origins of the Test Site

Tony LeVier i Dorsey Kammerer, jeden z ulubionych mechaników Kelly’ego Johnsona, zasiedli za sterami małego samolotu sportowego Beech Bonanza i wyruszyli na oględziny z powietrza możliwych rejonów prób, położonych na pustynnych obszarach Kalifornii i Newady. Środki ostrożności sięgnęły niemal absurdu: agenci CIA polecili LeVierowi i Kammererowi rozpowiadać wśród znajomych w wytwórni w Burbank, że lecą… na polowanie do Meksyku.

Po blisko dwóch tygodniach lotów, podczas których wykonywali zdjęcia wyschniętych słonych jezior stanowiących znakomite naturalne lotniska, spośród trzech możliwych miejsc wybrano jedno: dno wyschniętego jeziora Groom Lake w stanie Nevada. W pobliżu znajdował się ośrodek prób nuklearnych Komisji Energii Atomowej (AECAtomic Energy Commission) i baza lotnicza Nellis AFB, co zapewniało ochronę przed niepożądanymi gośćmi zarówno z otaczających terenów, jak i przestrzeni powierznej. Najbliższą miejscowością było Las Vegas, położone w odległości ok. 160 kilometrów na południowy wschód. Ośrodek prób na dnie jeziora Groom Lake otrzymał kryptonim The Ranch — „Ranczo”.

Jacek Nowicki: Lockheed U–2,
Lotnictwo Aviation International, Nr 12, 1–15 lipca 1992, s. 26. ISSN: 0867–6763

One of our first tasks was to find a base from which to operate. The Air Force and the CIA did not want the airplane [U–2] flown from Edwards AFB or our Palmdale plant in the Mojave Desert. So we surveyed a lot of territory. There are many dry lakes in and around Nevada, and the lakebeds are generally quite hard, even under water in the rainy season. A site near the nuclear proving grounds seemed ideal, and Bissell was able to secure a presidential action adding the area to the Atomic Energy Commission’s territory to insure complete security.

Dorsey Kammerer and I flew to what would be the test base. I had an Air Force compass, and he had some surveying equipment for use on the ground. Kicking away some of the empty .50–caliber shell cases and other remnants of target practice, we laid out the direction of our first runway.

Clarence L. Johnson, Maggie Smith: Kelly. More Than My Share of It All,
Smithsonian Books, Washington, 1985, pp. 122–123. ISBN: 0–8747–4491–1

[…] Kelly nominated Tony LeVier (chief test pilot on the XF–104), to be the project’s chief test pilot, but his first task was to find a secret site from which to conduct flight tests. Edwards and Palmdale were initially considered as possible sites, but both were soon discounted by the US government, which deemed them to be too visually accessible to the public.

In response, LeVier and Dorsey Kammerer—a Skunk Works logistics specialist—borrowed the company Beech Bonanza and conducted a two–week aerial survey of remote desert areas in southern California and Nevada. They then submitted a short list of possible options. However, none appealed to Bissell or Col Ozzie Ritland—the USAF’s liaison officer to the CL–282’s Development Project Staff (DPS). To settle the issue, in mid–April 1955, LeVier flew Johnson, Bissell and Ritland up to some likely sites near the Nevada nuclear test range. Ritland, a pilot who was once assigned to the B–29 test squadron which had dropped nuclear weapons at the range, directed LeVier towards an old World War II airfield which he remembered just to the north of the test range and adjacent to Groom Dry Lake. They landed on the lake–bed and according to Ritland: ‘within 30 seconds we knew it was the place’.

Paul F. Crickmore: Lockheed Blackbird. Beyond the Secret Missions,
Osprey Publishing, Oxford, 2004, p. 16. ISBN: 1–8417–6694–1
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