Anyway, the photo was supposed to go with a story that's along the same lines of the story "Man Who Fell to Earth" the movie starring David Bowie. This time it's a full on classic "grey" alien that ejects from his spacecraft after having a run in with the boys over at Area 51.
Well, here's where I come in. You see, I've visited the area surrounding Area 51 a couple of times and have written in the past under a pseudonym about visiting the border without getting shot. I'm also a pilot and have sort of written a guide on how to fly as close as you can to Area 51 without getting shot down. You can read between the lines about how to go about that HERE. Actually, you might wanna glance over that stuff just to become familiar with what I'm going to be writing here a little later on. Go ahead, click on the link and I'll be waiting here when you get back.
Lastly, I think you all know I do freefall photography.
So, here was the plan; I had a buddy of mine, let's just call him "X", outfitted with a silver jumpsuit and a "grey" space alien mask. We were going to fly out to Rachel, Nevada and along the way announce we were going to make a jump. Rachel sits under the MOA just outside of Area 51. So, technically, it's all perfectly legal and what makes it even better is that legally, there's not a damn thing they can do to stop us! It's considered "other use airspace" by the FAA and all that's required is 60 minutes notice - NOT permission! See; FAR 105.25(a)(3).
This was planned to be a sunrise shot because I wanted to, really, really wanted to also have the Area 51 airbase in the background of the photos!
I had previously talked to a guy by the name of Glen Campbell, one of the Area 51 "tour" guides based out of Rachel, about him camping out and waiting in a getaway jeep up at a place called "Campfire Hill". It's not really much of a hill, but it does overlook the road that goes into Area 51 from the Rachel area and it's a nice flat spot without a lot of rocks, joshua trees and other crap. It sits on Bureau of Land Management property just outside of the ground limits of Area 51 and is a perfectly legal place to camp - although why anyone in their right mind would do so is way beyond my comprehension - other than to spy on Area 51 that is!
I contacted one of the other flight instructors out at our flying club and convinced him it was all perfectly legal. He'd be our jump pilot, but would deny ever knowing about us if anything happened. We took off out of John Wayne Airport in one of my flying clubs Cessna 172s about an hour and a half before sunrise. It's kinda cool having a huge airport like that all to yourselves. At that hour commercial jets aren't allowed to takeoff or land and the control tower isn't even staffed.
So, we takeoff and start heading out to Rachel.
"SoCal Approach, Cessna 321PQ, is a Cessna 172 just out of John Wayne at 1000 request flight following to Dagget."
"321PQ, SoCal, squawk 4307 and climb and maintain 5000 VFR. Resume own navigation."
We wanted flight following just in case something was lurking out there in the air and it's usually not a bad idea if you're not filing a flight plan. We –didn't- want to file a flight plan.
Our flight took us out over Ontario, through the Cajon Pass. At the Cajon Pass, we got dropped from flight following.
"321PQ, SoCal, radar service terminated. Squawk 1200. Good day."
This is normal because of the lousy radar coverage in that area and we'd taken this into consideration as part of our flight planning. We wanted to sort of disappear at some point. 1200 is the transponder code for a VFR aircraft flying without talking to ATC.
We passed Apple Valley and Dagget and just kept cruising. Just beyond Dagget we started the real subterfuge as morning twilight began to start to show surface features on the desert floor below. We headed for one of the gazillion little dirt airstrips that seem to dot the desert and made a low pass as if we were landing. We then turned off the transponder and continued to fly nape of the earth quite literally below the radar until reaching another little airstrip at which point we made a "normal" climb out.
Perfect. We were now an airplane that didn't require a transponder at all because there wasn't a towered airport near by, so we left ours turned off. We then called up Nellis AFB on the radio and told them we were going to make a parachute jump over Rachel in 60 minutes.
"Nellis Control, 123AB, is a Cessna 172 40 miles southwest of Las Vegas and we're going up to Rachel, about 20 north west of Alamo to make a parachute drop from 15,000 in 60 minutes. That's 15:23 Zulu on the parachute drop. Is the MOA hot?"
"123AB, Nellis Control, uh . . . hold on . . . uh, what are you requesting again?"
They weren't really too happy about the concept, but since the MOA wasn't "hot" they couldn't really even come up with a single reason as to why we couldn't do this.
Onward to Rachel we stayed away from the 30 mile "veil" that surrounds the Las Vegas airspace and flew up toward a little airport called Alamo that sits under the MOA. From there we were just about 10 miles from the airspace border of Area 51 and only about 20 miles from the actual base.
We turned west toward the base just as the sun was peaking over the horizon and this was our jump run.
As we looked down, I could see that our friend waiting at the getaway jeep had popped a smoke flare for us! Wow, I wasn't expecting him to do that!
The 172 was a standard one without a jump door so we knew things were going to be a little funky getting into place. I had the pilot make sure he kept his toes on the brakes as I started to back out of the door. X was going to just dive out right behind me in his "alien" costume. Well, the exit kinda sucked, but we planned on that and it wasn't all that important anyway.
X and I jockeyed for position and with a couple of hand signals I was able to frame him just beautifully with red clouds of daybreak above him and the cool desert top secret base just below.
We made our approach and landing at Campfire Hill. X touched down first and I landed without incident, but just as I did one of the Lincoln County Sheriff's jeeps was approaching from the east and a "Cammo Guy" Jeep was approaching from the west. The "Cammo Guys" are the "civilian" guards at the Area 51 border. They don't really have any power outside the borders, but can detain or shoot you if you pass the border.
Anyway, it goes without saying that they all wanted to, uh, talk with us about our little stunt. I had copies of the relevant FARs and an air chart in my jumpsuit and they agreed it all looked perfectly legal. Then they pulled out a map of the area and we debated for quite awhile about where the ground borders lay in relationship to the airspace borders.
But we had clearly landed on the BLM side of the line!
Seems as if the Cammo Guys were convinced by the Nellis ATC (which I read as Area 51 ATC) that although we had exited over the MOA that we had drifted into the airspace of Area 51 and that they could easily see that on radar. What? Our hip rings? You gotta be kidding me? Well, I guess they –do- have some pretty good radar up there.
It was either hand over the film, video tape AND sign the paper saying we were bad people and we'd never talk about what we'd seen while in the Area, or they'd haul our asses off to prison. All "standard" hassle procedure around these parts and we all knew it. Personally, I didn't see anything that could be seen from a satellite going overhead so it all seemed like a huge pointless exercise to me, but well, the M-16s in the back of the jeeps and the 45s on their belts finally convinced us.
But then again, you -probably- shouldn't believe everything you read.