Revealed: Everything We Know About the Government’s Secret Airline
The government keeps lots of secrets, including its UFO program and its plans for terrifying disaster scenarios. Only a little less outlandish? The secret airline, called JANET, that the government uses to covertly ferry people around. As it turns out, this secret airline not only flies under the radar, but also flies in and out of commercial airports.
Read on for all the most facts about JANET, including where the airline flies, who it transports, and the measures it takes to keep its mission a secret.
1. The airline is called JANET, but nobody knows why
As Business Insider reports, the government’s secret airline is called JANET. And that’s how pilots identify their aircraft over air traffic radio. But nobody knows exactly what JANET stands for. It may mean “Just Another Non-Existent Terminal.” Or possibly “Joint Air Network for Employee Transportation.” But nobody — at least not anybody who’s spoken to the press — knows for sure.
Next: This is who owns the airline’s planes.
2. JANET’s planes are owned by the U.S Air Force
Interestingly enough, Business Insider reports that the U.S. Air Force owns JANET’s planes. Defense contractor AECOM operates them. The JANET fleet consists of six Boeing 737-600s and five Beechcraft turboprops. According to Popular Mechanics, the Air Force doesn’t hide the fact that it owns these aircraft. You can go to the FAA website and search for the planes’ registration numbers. Then, the website will tell you that the plane is owned by the U.S. Air Force.
Next: These planes look different from other aircraft in one key way.
3. The planes don’t have the usual markings
When you fly with a commercial airline, you’ll board a plane that bears the airline’s logo in several places. After all, it’s free advertising for the airline, so why wouldn’t they take advantage of it? But as Business Insider notes, JANET’s planes don’t carry identifying markings like the aircraft that belong to other airlines. Instead, they just bear a horizontal red stripe (for the Boeing aircraft). Or, they have blue trim stripes (for the Beechcraft planes), plus their registration numbers. But even those markings are pretty distinctive, and have made the airline’s aircraft recognizable around the Las Vegas airport.
Next: This is the airline’s home base.
4. The airline operates out of a private terminal at McCarran in Las Vegas
Business Insider reports that the secret airline operates out of a private terminal at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. Popular Mechanics reports that JANET’s area of the airport bears the codename, “Gold Coast Terminal.” The publication notes that each morning, the parking lot for the terminal “fills up with hundreds of cars.” Then, planes take off to shuttle people to their destinations. (More on those in the coming pages.) In the evening, “the planes come back, and the cars leave.”
Next: We aren’t certain about this key information on the Gold Coast Terminal.
5. We’re not sure who runs the terminal
Though it’s been reported that AECOM operates JANET’s aircraft, Popular Mechanics reports that we’re not 100% sure who runs the Gold Coast Terminal. That used to be the job of a defense contractor called EG&G (which helped to develop nuclear weapons). EG&G originally operated the terminal, but the Carlyle Group acquired the contractor in 1999. Then, the URS Corporation acquired Carlyle in 2002. And finally, AECOM acquired URS in 2014. As far as we know, AECOM currently operates the terminal — and the flights.
Next: Even flight attendants need this to work for JANET.
6. Even flight attendants have to have top secret security clearance
Not many people get to fly with JANET. And we’d guess that even fewer work for the secret airline. As Business Insider reports, even flight attendants who work for the airline have to qualify for and maintain a Top Secret security clearance. Getting that clearance — the highest level — can be a pretty arduous process. The application requires you to divulge “nearly every bit of information about yourself relating to personal and business finances, residences, employment history, criminal behavior, prior military service, citizenship, and criminal behavior.” An investigator also interviews your employers, neighbors, spouse, and acquaintances. And you have to take a polygraph exam. That’s a lot of hoops to jump through to get a job as a flight attendant!
Next: But the airline does do this like a normal company.
7. But the airline makes a splash every few years when it publishes a job posting
Not everybody can qualify for or obtain a Top Secret security clearance — a clearance that allows access to sensitive information that affects national security. But JANET makes a splash every few years by publishing a job posting, such as for flight attendants or pilots. Everybody speculates about what it would be like to work for the secretive airline, and what the requirements of the job reveal about JANET. Even if you don’t like heights or wouldn’t want to live in Las Vegas, you can probably see the appeal of getting an up-close-and-personal look at some of the most secretive government facilities in the United States.
Next: JANET flies to this fascinating location.
8. JANET transports employees to Area 51
Curious where the airline actually flies? It reportedly shuttles employees and contractors to Area 51, the most famous of the U.S. government’s top secret military bases. (Conspiracy theorists have posited that the government is hiding everything from aliens to a moon landing movie set on the base.) But the remote Air Force facility isn’t the only mysterious destination that the airline services. JANET aircraft also fly to the Tonopah Test Range, Air Force Plant 42, the Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake, and the Edwards Air Force Base.
Next: Here’s how flights to Area 51 stay under the radar.
9. Many JANET flights turn off their transponders and disappear from trackers
Popular Mechanics reports that “most of the time,” JANET’s planes take off from Las Vegas, head north, then turn off their transponders and disappear from trackers after spending just 15 minutes in the air. The U.S. government still maintains that Area 51 doesn’t exist. So according to Popular Mechanics, “every sign would point to these JANET flights being the Area 51 employee shuttles for personnel living in Las Vegas. The airspace around Area 51, known as Airspace 4808 North, qualifies as some of the most protected airspace in the world, with fighter jets on duty to shoot down intruders. But JANET’s aircraft regularly go in and out of Airspace 4808 North without incident.
Next: JANET even does this as an aircraft approaches the protected airspace.
10. The airline even changes the plane’s callsigns in the airspace over Area 51
Jalopnik reports that when JANET flights take off from Las Vegas, they communicate with McCarran Departure Control using a callsign such as “Janet 210” or “Janet 301.” Once airborne, flights that go to Area 51 check in with Nellis Control, which supervises the airspace across southern Nevada. Then, when the airline continues into the airspace over Area 51, the flight switches to a different frequency — and also changes its callsign. Jalopnik explains, “It’s no longer ‘Janet 210’ or ‘Janet 301,’ it’s now something else entirely, like ‘Racer 25’ or ‘Bones 58.’ It’s flying inside the most restricted airspace on Earth, heading directly towards a veritable black hole of information.”
Next: But not every JANET flight needs to stay so secretive.
11. But not all of the airline’s planes turn off their transponders, even when going to some secretive facilities
We don’t actually know for sure that the airline flies to Area 51, since the flights suspected to go there turn off their transponders. But we can track other JANET flights that don’t turn off their transponders, even when they fly to secretive facilities. Popular Mechanics reports that we know without a doubt that the airline flies to Tonopah, where the U.S. military develops and tests many of its weapons. JANET planes also go to China Lake, a Navy research and development site. We also know for certain that they go to Plant 42, where the Air Force builds its planes. And the airline also flies to Edwards Air Force Base, home of classified research and development projects.
Next: These probably aren’t the only places where the airline flies.
12. JANET likely flies to other destinations, too
Jalopnik notes that though we know about the destinations where the airline flies regularly, JANET “may serve other locations throughout the military and intelligence apparatus, and very likely make unique visits to atypical destinations under special circumstances.” As the publication explains, “Some of these places are in or near southern Nevada, and others are many thousands of miles away.” JANET flights likely go to destinations in New Mexico, California, Utah, and beyond.
Next: Many, many people fly with JANET each day.
13. The airline transports hundreds or maybe thousands of people per day
Popular Mechanics reports that though many facts about the secret airline are up for debate, we do know that JANET must fly hundreds of even thousands of people per day. As Jalopnik explains, “Circulating key people among the litany of bases and ranges is the reason why Janet flights exist.” We may not know who all these people are. But we do have some idea of what they’re doing. When the airline boards its aircraft each weekday morning, its casually-dressed passengers are on their way to “places where some of the most advanced development work in all of aerospace is occurring.”
Next: You may be able to spot a JANET plane.
14. You can see the airplanes if you travel through Las Vegas
Have you booked a flight in or out of McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas? Then Popular Mechanics reports that you may be able to see JANET’s aircraft in plain sight. You’d think that if the U.S. governments want to keep JANET secret, then it would keep its aircraft away from curious onlookers. But that doesn’t seem to be the case, and you may be able to spot a JANET plane the next time you fly through MacCarran.
Next: The airline’s planes have also been spotted at this major airport.
15. The planes undergo maintenance in Atlanta
Similarly, you may spot a JANET aircraft if you fly through Atlanta. Though the secretive airline is based in Las Vegas, Jalopnik reports that JANET’s planes are occasionally seen undergoing maintenance in Atlanta. They head to Delta Air Lines’ TechOps maintenance facility, the same place where USAF C-40 Clipper jets — a military version of the Boeing 737-700 — also undergo maintenance. Additionally, JANET 737s reportedly get serviced at Paine Field in Everett, Washington.
Next: Many of JANET’s planes have an interesting history.
16. JANET’s current planes used to belong to a Chinese airline
The airline has owned numerous aircraft over the years, and some have an interesting history. Jalopnik reports that JANET became official in 1972 with a Douglas DC-6B. The airline added an additional C-6B in 1976. The two aircraft served until 1981. Then, the government replaced them with Boeing 737-200 Advanced jets. Six 737-200s eventually joined the fleet. Of the six, five had been converted from prior service as USAF T-43A trainers. The sixth had flown for Western Airlines before the government acquired it. The airline upgraded its fleet sometime between 2008 and 2009 — but bought pre-owned instead of new. The Boeing 737-600 airliners that fly for JANET today were all previously in service with Air China.
Next: Many things about JANET remain a mystery.
17. Plenty of information about the airline remains a mystery
Even though the secret airline’s planes may be in plain sight at the Las Vegas airport, there are still plenty of things that we don’t know about JANET. As Popular Mechanics notes, we can’t say with 100% certainty where — or whom — these planes fly. And while it seems safe to guess that thousands of people have flown with JANET over the years, we certainly don’t know who they all were or what they’ve been working on.
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