Back to Main Page

We Watch Them; They Watch Us
Why you can't get close to a secret airbase anymore.

One reason it is so difficult to get close to a National Test
Range like Tonopah, China Lake, Groom Lake or White Sands is
because there are large bore cameras planted all over the
mountains to keep an eye on the ground when they are not
pointed skyward.

A typical set-up at a Test Range would include a ring of
Cinetheodolites, Cinesextants and video cameras around the
perimeter of the area where aircraft are flown or packages are
dropped from aircraft to impact on the range.

A Cinetheodolite is generally a 70mm sequential camera that
records events in real time while displaying dates, times,
speed, altitude, etc. on the film. They are usually pedestal
mounted 24 inch or 36 inch focal length cameras with a single
operator sighting through a reflecting telescope boresighted to
the lens.

A Cinesextant is a mobile or stationary mount bearing two, four
or six long focal length surveillance cameras. The mount is
electrically and hydraulically driven by servos actuated by an
operator who sits in a seat between the lens barrels.

A "joystick", much like the control stick of an airplane is
between the operator's legs. Two switches may be found near the
control. One switch arms the cameras; the second switch alerts
the mission controller that the operator has acquired the
target and is tracking.

A trigger on the control stick will fire all the cameras that
have been selected by the mount operator. These cameras may
include 16mm and 35 mm cine cameras and video cameras fitted to
extreme focal length lenses by C-ring adapters. Focal lengths
of the lenses may vary from 12 or 24 inches to 250 inches or

The lenses are basically large refracting terrestrial
telescopes fitted to various cameras. All the lenses are
boresighted to a spotting scope in the center of the mount and
eye level with the seated operator. Boresighting is
accomplished by pointing the spotting scope at a large black
and white checkerboard target several miles away, locking the
mount, and adjusting all the cameras and lenses so they point
at exactly the same line or patch on the distant target.

These cameras and lenses are so precise that the mount operator
may see and transmit images of objects as small as human faces
at a distance of 40 to 50 miles away!

Transmission of images is accomplished by one of two methods
simultaneously: Cine film which is taken to the base photo lab
for processing, and video pictures in real time transmitted via
microwave dish to a control center where it is both recorded
and further transmitted to other distant stations.

If you see a camera station on a mountain and you want to know
if they are using real time video, look for a microwave dish.
If you want to know where the control building is, just note
which way the dish is pointing. Microwave is line-of-sight. All
the dishes will point toward the control building or another
microwave tower. Eventually you can narrow it down to the last
point of reception, whether it is on the base or at a control
building located on the Test Range.

Inside this building will be a number of technicians who are
gathering information on the test vehicle by various means.
Some information is via the video pictures; other information
is from telemetry packages aboard the vehicle being observed.

Radar operators will be present. Video technicians will be
there, too. Photographers will be manning pedestal mounts on
the roof of the building or at concrete platforms nearby. A
helicopter pad will be present. The mission controller (the guy
who counts 'em down) and the Range Boss reside there during
days when operations are being conducted. Normally, like most
other government facilities, operations are not conducted
during the weekends (but not always).

You can spot the camera stations on these secret bases by
looking for a white dome shaped like a small observatory. They
work exactly the same way. Doors crank open electrically and
the dome turns 360 degrees.

Cinetheodolites are generally found atop concrete buildings
surrounded by high, barbed-wire fences.

The Cinesextants may be mounted "free-standing" inside a dome
atop a tower 60 to 80 feet tall. They may also be found as
mobile mounts on four-wheeled trailers and covered with heavy
plastic shrouds to protect the lenses and cameras from the heat
and weather. All are kept inside the fence behind locked gates.

The mount can be manipulated to depress below 0, or below the
horizon, and can be elevated to the zenith or 90. It can also
be rotated through 360 azimuth, all quite rapidly, to track
supersonic aircraft, missiles, bombs and other weapons.

Generally speaking, an aircraft flying at 30,000 to 40,000 feet
(7 miles) can easily be acquired and tracked from as far away
as 50 to 60 miles slant range. If the aircraft is as large as a
C-130, the field of view with the largest lens might only cover
the loading ramp!

Some years ago Operations Department at El Centro, California,
winter home of the Blue Angels, witnessed the real-time live
crash of one of the aircraft because one of our Cinesextant
operators was tracking them on an adjacent range, about 25
miles away, during a lull in our drops.

Other cameras you are likely to find on these secret bases are
shorter focal length types mounted in 6x6 trucks or other
vehicles capable of maneuvering in desert areas. The pedestals
remain in the truck but the cameras are removed when not in

A variety of hand-held still and motion picture and video
cameras are also used around these test sites. Focal lengths
will vary from 35mm to 50mm on still cameras to 250 inches and
up on the Cinesextants. Some of the lens barrels are 10 to 15
feet in length and 12 to 16 inches in diameter.

The cine cameras are capable of recording events from about 6
frames per second to thousands of frames per second (extreme
slow motion) for precise analysis of the object being tested.
Shutters may be standard "butterfly" types as found on most
older cine cameras (Mitchell, Milliken and Arriflex) to
rotating prisms and mirrors on more sophisticated types
operating at extreme high speeds.

Film sizes may be 16mm, 35mm and 70mm, and all sizes and camera
types may be included on any single Cinesextant mount which
could bear and fire as many as six cine and video cameras at
one time.

Film types used would include color film with speeds of ASA
500 or even greater, usually pushed to ASA 1000 or greater for
processing, and black and white Shellburst, a minus blue data
recording film originally designed to accurately record
ordnance explosions. Shellburst has haze filters built in so
aircraft really stand out when flying at high altitudes! (Are
you paying attention?)

Shellburst is available in 35mm and 70mm format at most large
camera/film stores by special order.

Other film used at some bases is Infrared for night sorties to
record exhausts, surface heat, crew heat, flight track, shell
fragments, trajectories, in SLIR/FLIR devices*, etc. Infrared
is also available from large suppliers in 35mm and 70mm format.

The whole point of this report is: If you want to record what
they record, you must use the same hardware and film they use!
If you have enough money and plenty of time, you could even
lease a Cinesextant all set up and ready to haul to the high
desert. If you know someone who works for a company like COHU,
you might even beg a video camera and nightscope with a monster
lens to take a few shots. If you know someone who works for a
motion picture company, you might talk them into pointing their
camera starward some desert night to see what they can see.

Rising lights are not enough to create profiles of UFOs.
Several aircraft can rise vertically, hover and fly off in
horizontal flight, although I know of none that do so silently.

We need SHAPES! If I see a Spanloader or "Boomerang" rise
vertically, hover and fly away, I won't be unduly impressed.
If, however, I see an ovate ellipsoid or a skirted sphere doing
the same thing, I can conclude that I have seen that which we
commonly call a "Flying Saucer" or UFO.

It is important to understand that an aircraft based on a
standard wing design must rely on aerodynamic lift to keep it
airborne after it changes to horizontal flight. That makes it
an airplane, not a flying saucer.

But a sphere or ellipsoid would remain airborne by virtue of
some energy other than the shape of the wing or hull. It must
be rendered massless or weightless by an anti mass field and be
propelled by some electrodynamic engine unlike any we now know.
That may be classified as a UFO or Flying Saucer.

An ellipsoid or sphere without its surrounding field would have
the glide coefficient of a Grand piano! An aircraft built upon
an aerodynamic wing can glide, however slightly these days, by
virtue of the air passing around the shape. Craft designed to
swim the oceans of space do not require aerodynamic shape; they
could be perfect cubes or polygons and not be affected by the

But if you see a craft with a "wing", you can bet your last
dollar it was built on Earth by Earthlings for use in Earth's
atmosphere (at least part of the time) or it wouldn't be a wing
in the first place.

If you can get pictures of these aircraft without violating any
laws, do it, so we can eliminate them from our list of things
that go bump in the night.

But remember: The camera operators, who can spot and track you
from their mountain perches for 50 miles are connected directly
to the control building and every other camera operator, as
well as to the base and the Security Forces via FM radio and
via the real time live video transmissions by microwave.

Additionally, because a rather imposing satellite array is
stationed at Groom Lake, we should assume the pictures are also
capable of being transmitted directly to CIA or NPIC, or both,
in Washington, D.C. by way of their COMINTELSAT as the events

That means if you step behind a bush to pee, several hundred
people will be watching. I know because we used to see people
doing it in the desert adjacent to our range. The pictures went
live to NAS Operations.

When I tell you they know when you go pottie and where, I am as
serious as a heart attack.

If you get into their territory and one person sees you, he
will inform every other mount operator and Control, who will
inform Security, who will buzz out to see if they can add you
to the endangered species list.

Security personnel at secret bases like Groom Lake may be
civilian contractors, they may be Air Force personnel, or they
may be CIA people.

But if I had to hire some mean, reliable guys to keep my secret
base secure, I would round up some of those former members of
the CIA Shadow Companies (SOG) who were classified as MIA or
KHA in Vietnam so they could operate in the provinces around
the Plain of Jars in Cambodia with complete impunity.

These guys are already dead, so who would be looking for them
if someone finds you've gone missing? They could fairly well do
what they wanted, and they are the people I would hire to
protect my secret base.

Chances are, if I've thought of that, so have a lot of other
people who spend most of their time thinking about just those
kinds of things. For these reasons, it would be prudent to
consult reliable charts before you go traipsing off to take
pictures around Groom Dry Lake, Nevada (or anywhere else for
that matter).

* SLIR/FLIR: Side-Looking Infrared and Forward-Looking Infrared
cameras are generally mounted in all aerial recon aircraft and
in a number of attack and ground support aircraft. Coupled with
radar systems, these cameras are capable of "seeing" hundreds
of miles inside enemy territory.


This information is provided as a public service, but we cannot guarantee that the information is current or accurate. Readers should verify the information before acting on it.