Flying very near and even across some of the restricted areas within the NTTR is not unheard of. If the timing is right and the ranges are not in use (referred to as being “cold”), air traffic control can allow routing through the area. A handful of small civilian airports ring the NTTR and planes can’t fly into them without at least passing very near the restricted operating areas that host everything from massive aerial warfare exercises like Red Flag to various test and tactics development sorties. It’s also worth noting that the Russians are allowed to get even closer than any civilian pilot can.
After spotting Zeifman’s amazing images after he posted them on Reddit, The War Zone reached out to the adventurous flyer. He described his flight into the NTTR and interest in the area to us as such:
I’ve had an interest in all the military airspace out this way for a while and figured I had to go check it out. The first time I ventured into the Nellis Ranges was on a flight from Tonopah to Rachel via R4807A where I went down to the edge of that side of 4808A [also known as “The Box”] and got some good views of Groom [Area 51] from the north. After departing Rachel, I was given permission to enter R4806W enroute to Henderson and proceeded to fly the perimeter of The Box and R4808N basically to Yucca Lake. I only had my cell phone camera at the time, so I waited to come back with a good camera.
So, these are the installations where aviation’s crown jewels are developed and kept, some of which we may never know existed.
You can see the results of Zeifman’s Tonopah Test Range Airport and Area 51 aerial tour in the amazingly detailed images below. He even caught a new development at “Dreamland” during his adventure:
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