Does This Area 51 Image Show A Secret Aircraft Or A Shadow Of A Cloud?

Late last week, our inbox had multiple emails from readers pointing out what could be a large flying-wing-like aircraft at Area 51, near the large and remote ‘2014 hangar’ on the base’s southern end. The low-resolution satellite image was taken on August 1st and posted over at Sentinel Hub. To our knowledge, it first was brought to attention by the eagle-eyed folks over at the message boards.

The image is certainly curious and comes just eight months after The War Zone exclusively reported on a high-resolution image taken of the base showing a large, fighter-sized, exotic-looking aircraft in a movable shelter without its canvas roof sitting on the northern side of the same hangar. The secretive nature of the aircraft seen in the image seemed to be later confirmed by the Air Force’s top officer.

The aircraft in the August 1 satellite image, if it is indeed one at all, is much larger, and appears to possibly be a v-shaped flying-wing design. That is if it isn’t a shadow cast on the ground by a low-hanging cloud. While that seems certainly possible at first glance, the shape of the ‘blob’ and its centering direct on the taxiway in front of the hangar — the exact utility of which remains a mystery nearly a decade after its construction began — makes such an assumption less definite. The blob’s color tone and even what appears to be its shadowed outline also lead one to believe it is indeed an aircraft, not a shadow, but that is far from definitive.

Sentinel Hub
Sentinel Hub

While the testers and the support staff at Area 51/Air Force Flight Test Center Detachment 3 are known to be very careful when it comes to allowing their test articles to be seen from passing satellites, it was a cloudy day. In addition, this is only a low-resolution satellite that really couldn’t ever provide specific details of any sight-sensitive airframes. Still, with the other aircraft sitting out for days earlier in the year, it seems clear that it is possible for mistakes to be made. Some could even argue that similar occurrences could be used to confuse adversaries, but that really doesn’t make all that much sense in many instances.

Twitter user Ruben Hofs did a good basic analysis of the imagery that matches our own analysis. There doesn’t seem to be a low-hanging cloud there to cause the shadow, but it’s unclear if a higher one could.

We asked independent satellite image analyst and contributor to The War Zone @detresfa_ what their thoughts were on it and they seem to align similarly:

“Despite the extreme lack of detail in the low-resolution imagery, the observed object could be a possible aircraft wider than the 75ft wide taxiway it would appear to sit on.”

As for what this aircraft is, if it is one at all, it’s hard to say. It looks quite large — remember low resolution means things often look smaller or are hard to detect at all, like thin wings and tail surfaces. The taxiway is 75 feet wide at its thinnest point, and this aircraft is not at its thinnest point but looks to overlap well beyond the concrete edges. Maybe an acutely swept flying wing of some type? We just don’t know.

Sentinel Hub

What do you think? Is this some large acute flying wing or simply a conveniently-shaped cloud casting a shadow in just the right place? Let us know in the comments below.

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Tyler Rogoway


Tyler's passion is the study of military technology, strategy, and foreign policy and he has fostered a dominant voice on those topics in the defense media space. He was the creator of the hugely popular defense site Foxtrot Alpha before developing The War Zone.