RALEIGH, N.C. - The truth is out there - on the Web. Photos of Area 51, the super-secret Air Force test site in Nevada that has long tantalized UFO and conspiracy buffs and fans of ``The X-Files,'' are being posted on the Internet.
``This is the first glimpse into the most secret training and testing facility for the Air Force,'' said John Hoffman, president of Aerial Images Inc. of Raleigh.
The company planned to post 20 images of the site in collaboration with Microsoft, Kodak, Digital Equipment Corp., Autometric Inc. and the Russian agency Sovinformsputnik.
The partners launched a Russian satellite from Kazahkstan in 1998 to map Earth's surface and Area 51. An open-skies agreement signed in 1992 by 24 nations, including the United States and Russia, made the effort possible.
The Air Force only recently acknowledged that Groom Dry Lake Air Force Base even exists. The 8,000-square-mile base is 75 miles northwest of Las Vegas, in the arid, rugged Nellis Range.
Beginning with the U-2 spy plane in the 1950s, the base has been the testing ground for a host of top-secret aircraft, including the SR-71 Blackbird and, more recently, the F-117A stealth fighter and B-2 stealth bomber.
The base's airspace is restricted; aircraft are not allowed to fly over it. But satellite overflights are allowed as part of an agreement to verify arms-control compliance.
Among UFO aficionados, it has long been known simply as Area 51, the base's designation on old Nevada test site maps. They believe that unidentified flying objects from other worlds are hidden at the base, where their parts are copied for U.S. prototypes.
The images, with resolution good enough to distinguish a car from a truck, are better than earlier telephoto shots from the nearby mountains. The only other known image purportedly was shot by a satellite in the 1960s. It is much fuzzier.
``There are runways, there are buildings, there are buses, there are test sites, but there aren't any little green men or super-secret aircraft to be seen,'' Hoffman said of the new photos.
Several government agencies are aware of the images and haven't responded, said Hoffman, 52, a Vietnam veteran who recently retired from the National Guard after 23 years. ``I've had no feedback from anybody that indicates anybody gives a hoot,'' he said.
An Air Force spokeswoman would not comment Monday on any security concerns about the images.
``We acknowledge having an operating site there, and the work is classified,'' spokeswoman Gloria Cales said. The work involves ``operations critical to the U.S. military and the country's security.''
Aerial Images, at www.terraserver.com, planned to offer a link to the Area 51 pages. Viewing the images is free; downloading them costs $8.95 and up. Kodak will print photographs for $20 to $30.
The images show craters, some seemingly formed by something dropped from the sky, others possibly by something coming out of the ground. There are hundreds of buildings, living quarters, tennis courts, a baseball field, a track and a swimming pool.
There are no paved roads and no parking lots; buses are the only visible vehicles, raising the question of how employees get to and from work. Unpaved roads disappear into cliffsides, suggesting a possible underground network.
A shrouded aircraft is visible on a ramp, unusual considering the Air Force knows when Russian satellites are overhead, Hoffman said.
Walter Andrus Jr., international director of the Mutual UFO Network, based in Seguin, Texas, seemed to have a hard time believing the object of so much secrecy and discussion would soon be available on the Web.
``We have other photos taken from the ground and from the air, but they aren't this current,'' he said.
Even Chris Carter, creator of ``The X-Files,'' apparently was skeptical when Hoffman contacted him. Some of the show's favorite themes are UFOs and secret government activities, and one of its mantras is ``The truth is out there.''
``He clearly didn't believe me,'' Hoffman said. ``From his tone, you could tell he didn't believe me that we had Area 51 and we had the whole area covered.''
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