Janet: The U.S. Military’s Secret Airline that Flies to Area 51

Othman Mekhloufi | @othmanmekhloufi

At the McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, there exists a highly classified airline with a fleet of passenger aircraft that the military owns. It commenced operations in 1972 and was operated by defense contractors that played a key role in the development of nuclear weapons. The airline currently operates out of a private terminal, and the public knows very little about it. They, however, unofficially refer to it as “Janet”. This is because “Janet” is the callsign that the pilots use to identify their aircraft over air traffic radio.

Nobody has yet confirmed what the letters in “JANET” stand for. Ideas span from “Joint Air Network for Employee Transportation” to “Just Another Non-Existent Terminal.”

The Functions of Janet

Janet planes are widely believed to be a shuttle transportation service for employees and military personnel who reside within Las Vegas or Paradise, Nevada. The planes shuttle workers back and forth between Las Vegas, Area 51, and other military installments they may be at.

The planes take off from McCarran International Airport (Las Vegas) at the private Gold Coast Terminal and head north for roughly twenty-five minutes until they turn off their transponder and disappear from trackers.

At the point in time that the transponders are turned off, the aircraft are seen at the coordinates 37° 14′ 3.35″ N / 115° 48′ 55.56″ W. These are the coordinates of the highly classified remote detachment of Edwards Air Force Base. This detachment is in the Nevada Test and Training Range, a military installment the CIA has deemed ‘Groom Lake’… also known as Area 51.

In addition to speculation that Janet flights land at Area 51 based on the location that the planes last transmit before turning off their trackers, there is unofficial confirmation that the flights go there. This confirmation stems from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) codes listed as their destinations.

ICAO codes are four-letter codes that identify nearly every airdrome in the world. Air traffic control uses them for official purposes, but they are different from IATA (International Air Transportation Association) codes like “LAX” and “DET”.

According to the Central Intelligence Agency, the ‘correct’ name for Area 51 is Groom Lake. Despite having no official ICAO registration, the ICAO code for Groom Lake is Homey Airport: KXTA.

En Route to Area 51

Janet flights supposedly go to Area 51 based on the location they last transmitted. They list “KXTA” as the ICAO code of their destination. This means that these planes fly towards Area 51, their last location is Area 51, and their destination of ICAO code is the location of Area 51.

However, most Janet flights with Area 51 as a transmitted location have the Tonopah Test Range’s ICAO code, KTNX, as their destination. The public does not know the reason for this.

It is possible that these flights remain at Area 51 or proceed to Tonopah Test Range (TTR) after disabling tracking. This is unlikely, however. Despite being highly classified as well, Janet planes that allegedly go to TTR do not disable their transponders at any point in their flight. In addition to this, they also list their ICAO destination code as KTNX.

Updated as of March 2019, every day from 3:35 am to 6:35 pm, fourteen flights run from Las Vegas to Area 51. Every day from 4:25 am to 8:10 pm, fourteen flights run from Area 51 to Las Vegas.

Apart from Area 51, Janet flights have a number of other confirmed destinations at military installments such as Tonopah Test Range; China Lake, a Navy research and development site; Air Force Plant 42, where the U.S. Airforce builds its aircraft; Edwards Air Force Base where highly classified research and development projects take place.

Owners & Operators of the Airline

According to the Federal Aviation Administration’s registry, the United States Air Force registers and owns all the aircraft. However, the U.S. Airforce does not operate the flights or the private terminal they use.

Established in 1947, EG&G (Edgerton, Germeshausen, and Grier) was a defense contractor that played a prime role in the development of nuclear weapons in the United States. The company alone was the original operator of the Gold Coast private terminal and the Janet flights.

In 1999, The Carlyle Group acquired EG&G. Then, in 2002, the URS Corporation bought them from The Carlyle Group for $500 million. Finally, in 2014, The URS Corporation entered into a merger agreement under which AECOM would acquire it. As far as is known, AECOM is possibly the current operator of Janet airlines, its flights, and the private Gold Coast Terminal.

The Secrecy Surrounding Janet

The airspace around Area 51, Restricted Area 4808 North, is one of the most restricted and heavily protected air spaces in the world. The military will likely shoot down any planes that enter the space. Yet, Janet aircraft regularly enter and leave without a problem.

Janet planes are the only aircraft on Earth other than military aircraft that have ever entered Restricted Area 4808 North.

Currently, Janet’s fleet consists of eleven aircraft, including six Boeing 737-66Ns and five propeller planes. Of the propeller planes, the airline operates one Beechcraft 1900, one Beechcraft 1900C, and three Beechcraft B200Cs.

Usually, commercial aircraft are distinct, with recognizable colors and their airline’s logo on the body of the planes. Even military fighter jets have these identifiers, with bright markings and their country’s flag.

Janet planes, however, have near to no markings whatsoever, apart from the plane’s registration number. The planes are fully white with a single bold stroke of deep red on each side. The planes have absolutely no logos, wording, or even symbols such as flags.

Moreover, every individual who flies aboard the planes needs top security clearance. That includes everyone from the pilots, the passengers, and even the flight attendants.

Although it may seem trivial and obviously just a shuttle service for employees, it is, in fact, interesting to ponder what could be behind Janet. Even so, it’s much more of a marvel to the mind to imagine what secretive and important things Janet passengers do at work every day.


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