The Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR) seems to be hosting a significant test—or tests—of some sort this weekend, at least according to fragmented reports from various sources. Keep in mind, the nature of the topic makes attempting to draw any hard conclusions as to what exactly is afoot in the large swathes of cordoned off airspace that sit over southern Nevada a grossly speculative game that isn’t really the purpose of this post. With that in mind, here is what we hearing.
A handful of interesting Notices To Airman (NOTAMs) had been published that identify distinct restricted areas within the NTTR that are being placed off-limits to any air traffic at any altitude. Keep in mind, these NOTAMs are for military aircrews, not wayward civilian planes or light aircraft trying to weave around the NTTR over the weekend when some of the Military Operating Areas (MOAs) may be “cold” (not in use). Twitter user Bryan Herbert, who keeps an eye on aerial happenings and breaking news events throughout the region, first posted about the NOTAM on August 8th.
That notice was for R-4806E, an elongated north-to-south block of restricted airspace that measures roughly 50 by 15 miles and sits south of the small community of Alamo and east of R-4806W. R-4806W includes Dog Bone Dry Lake. A number of air-to-ground targets and a MOUT facility that is often used for JTAC training and other ground and air asset integration exercises are located there. At the center of R-4806E, the restricted airspace in question, is Desert Dry Lake, but nothing is really located there or on the stretch of ground that sits below this airspace as a whole. It’s also worth noting that Desert Lake sits roughly 30 miles southeast of Groom Lake/Area 51.
Another NOTAM was posted on the 10th of August for the same airspace, with the effective time beginning at 8:00 PM local time. Like the first NOTAM that was posted a couple of days earlier, this one is also basically from the ground to unlimited altitude.
Then another NOTAM was posted that spans a couple of days starting on the evening of August 10th that closes airspace from the surface of the earth to unlimited altitude. But this one is for another block of restricted airspace, a massive one that sits on the western flank of Area 51’s notorious no-go ‘box’ that hangs over the clandestine installation. This NOTAM is active from midnight on August 11th all the way through 5:59 AM on August 12th.
In addition to these NOTAMs, keen-eyed airplane trackers noticed odd Janet flights out to Area 51 and surrounding installations such as Tonopah Test Range Airport scheduled for the weekend. This unusual activity is largely understood to be indicative of a major test event, or test events, occurring out of and over Area 51 and/or other parts of the surrounding NTTR.
The NTTR is used for all types of training, test flights, and classifieddevelopmental exercises for emerging capabilities. As such, setting aside airspace for certain tasks is not uncommon. But this type of activity on the weekend and the unlimited altitude blocks declared in the NOTAMs are intriguing.
In regards to the NOTAMs, some have mentioned the possibility of a test rocket launch of some kind due to the unlimited altitude restrictions, which would be odd for the NTTR as it doesn’t usually support that type of testing or operations, at least not in the traditional rocket manner. Laser and other more exotic directed energy weapon systems may require fully sanitized airspace up to space for safety concerns. In fact, such a system could even be used against space assets themselves. Still, maybe these are just precautions for testing very sensitive aircraft outside of the Groom Lake ‘box.’ And yes, especially if they are capable of extreme altitudes.
Of course, there are many other potential explanations. They don’t call Area 51 “Dreamland” for nothing and its own relatively limited airspace would certainly get augmented by the surrounding ranges for expanded testing as required—especially on the weekends when normal military traffic is at a minimum. N-4807A also contains the Tolicha Peak Electronic Combat Range (ECR), a critical complex that is dotted with real and simulated enemy air defense and electronic warfare systems that is highly relevant to the development of future air combat systems and the fine-tuning of tactics and subsystems for ones that are already in operation.
Just days ago, another test flight was up over Groom Lake under the callsign Romeo, with Northrop Grumman’s Gulfstream testbed aircraft—N99NG, which is equipped with a ventral gondola radome usually associated with ground-moving target indicator radars (like JSTARS)—flying along with it under the callsign Juliet 41. A full account of the communications from this test flight, which were also recorded, can be found over at Dreamlandresort under this thread.
In recent years, people immediately surmise that literally anything secretive that goes on out of Groom Lake or over the surrounding range complex has to do with the B-21 Raider’s development. This phenomenon has reached an almost comical degree even in parts of the defense media ecosystem. Although it is possible if not probable that testing does occur related, even if tangentially, to the Raider program, it is worth keeping in mind that places like Area 51 and Tonopah Test Range Airport, and the NTTR to even a larger degree, support many disparate classified programs at any given time. Some are more sensitive than America’s next stealth bomber and some are less so. And some are likely highly impressive and exotic, while others are far less glamorous. So, no, none of this is proof of the B-21 program flying some sort of a test article out there or even doing some type of surrogate testing in a case like this. That doesn’t mean it isn’t possible, there are just so many other possible explanations and few facts to leverage in which to make such a definitive determination.
So there you have it. It looks like a busy weekend for America’s premier clandestine flight test center and its surroundings.