Desert Rock Airfield (DRA)

The Desert Rock Airfield is a 7,500’ airfield located near the town of Mercury at the Nevada Test Site, the United States’ nuclear proving grounds. In the 1950s, DRA was part of a complex called Camp Desert Rock or Desert Atom Camp, which was home to the Army’s Atomic Maneuver Battalion. At that time, a camp with 100 buildings was located at the site, which had a capacity of 6,000. Soldiers from all military services were based at the camp to observe atmospheric nuclear explosions.

In the late 1950s, the camp was closed, but the airfield remained intact as one of the primary landing sites for flights to the Nevada Test Site. In 1969, the runway at DRA was extended to its present size. Although nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site has subsided, the airstrip remains open and controlled by the Department of Energy but provides no services.

It is unclear whether Janet flights ever actually land at DRA, but the airstrip is a well-known “cover story” for flights to Groom Lake. In the 1980s, Janets flying from Lockheed’s old Skunk Works plant in Burbank regularly filed flight plans to DRA when their actual destination was Groom Lake. In more recent times, DRA is still used as a “cover” destination by a plane operated by Lincoln Labs and owned by the Air Force Materiel Command – a Gulfstream II with the tail number N105TB.

In 2002, DRA played host to an unusual convergence of four aircraft whose tail numbers were N313P, N85VM, N8183J, and N403VP. Three of these aircraft eventually became infamous as members of the CIA’s fleet of “Torture Taxis” involved in the extraordinary rendition program.

©2006 Trevor Paglen