Twelve miles northeast of Area 51 lies Area 6—a site that might be as mysterious as its more famous neighbor. Never heard of it? That's not surprising. Government officials have long kept mum about Area 6, part of Nevada's national security site, which is home to a mile-long, $9.6 million airstrip and several buildings, including "a large hangar with unusual clamshell doors," the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. A 2008 Energy Department report says the site—see it here via Google Earth—is used "to construct, operate, and test a variety of unmanned aerial vehicles" for "airframe modifications, sensor operation, and onboard computer development." A rep for the National Nuclear Security Administration says simply that the runway is used by the Defense and Homeland Security departments. "They come here to test their own sensors," he says.
Because the location has controlled airspace, "we do a wide variety of work for others … supporting people with sensor development activities," he adds. "In other words, it's a drone proving ground," reports Popular Mechanics. One imagery analyst says the hangar complex could house 15 MQ-9 Reaper reconnaissance drones. John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org agrees the runway is just the right size for Reaper or Predator drones. Its location also makes sense. The desert terrain mimics the "boondocks" of Libya, home to ISIS and al-Qaeda. "Trying to develop targeting signatures in this type of mountainous desert terrain, that's got to be a really high priority," he says. "I can't think about a better place to do it where you wouldn't have civilians stumbling on what you're doing." (The US didn't admit the existence of Area 51 until a few years ago.)