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Book Review – Area 51 Black Jets: A History of the Aircraft Developed at Groom Lake, America’s Secret Aviation Base

By Bill Yenne; Zenith Press; 192 pages

Billed as the “first fully-illustrated history of Area 51,” Area 51 Black Jets: A History of the Aircraft Developed at Groom Lake, America’s Secret Aviation Base is the latest book catering to the public’s endless fascination with the Department of Defense’s secret site. This handsomely illustrated and well-designed large-format hardcover is more of an attractive survey of Area 51 and the aircraft known to have been tested there than a truly comprehensive history of each of the many aircraft types flown over Groom Lake. However, author Bill Yenne has concisely and engagingly packed much more information into the 192 pages of the book than you are likely to find in any other single volume attempting to cover so much ground, encompassing the history of the base as well as the development and testing of the many secret and not-so-secret aircraft flown there.

Unlike the breathless treatment given the subject in other mass-market volumes, Area 51 Black Jets provides solid research and real background on the more well-known programs that conducted flights from Groom Lake.

Unlike the breathless treatment given the subject in other mass-market volumes, Area 51 Black Jets provides solid research and real background on the more well-known programs that conducted flights from Groom Lake. U-2s, A-12s, and SR-71s are covered, of course, as are more recent manned (Have Blue, Tacit Blue) and unmanned (Polecat, Darkstar) programs. In addition to the usual suspects named above, however, are nice surprises like a chapter providing a fascinating look into Project Gusto, which led to the A-12 and SR-71, and another on Tagboard, the Mach 3+ D-21 drone. Yet another is the chapter on the development of the 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron, flying MiG and other Soviet aircraft acquired by the United States through various means over the years.

Area 51 - Black Jets: A History of the Aircraft Developed at Groom Lake, America's Secret Aviation Base

Area 51 – Black Jets: A History of the Aircraft Developed at Groom Lake, America’s Secret Aviation Base, by Bill Yenne; Zenith Press; 192 pages

Are UFOs mentioned? Sure. Is there speculation about other secret projects, like the evergreen Aurora or Black Manta? Check. But thankfully, while this book includes the almost obligatory mention of UFOs, advanced German aircraft, and flying discs, it never strays into the wild speculation and conspiracy theories of some other books covering the subject.

But thankfully, while this book includes the almost obligatory mention of UFOs, advanced German aircraft, and flying discs, it never strays into the wild speculation and conspiracy theories of some other books covering the subject.

Not the first book to be written about Area 51, and certainly not the last, Area 51 Black Jets certainly justifies its billing, with a large number of photos, line drawings, and artists’ conceptions covering some fairly arcane subject matter – some familiar to aviation enthusiasts, others never seen previously by this writer.

4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron

A 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron MiG-21 Fishbed – liveried in U.S. Air Force paint scheme – maneuvers over the Mojave Desert in this undated photo. Area 51 Black Jets delves into the 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron, which operated MiG and other Soviet/Russian aircraft. U.S. Air Force photo

Area 51 will continue to be a source of curiosity and fascination that will last as long as any of its secrets, and probably beyond. That being the case, this book makes a great introduction to what little is known of Groom Lake and its history, and may even be an effective reply to the more wild-eyed conspiracy theorists among your friends and family. Area 51 Black Jets is one example of truth being more interesting than fiction.