Bob Lazar's UFO Legacy 30 Years After Putting Area 51 On The Map

November 13, 2019 6:00 AM ‐ UFOsLong Reads

This article is more than three years old and was last updated in April 2022.

Bob Lazar 1989
30 years ago today, a man named Bob Lazar first appeared on the Las Vegas television station KLAS-TV in a series of news reports titled 'UFOs: The Best Evidence'. The now-legendary interview conducted by investigative reporter George Knapp was the start of an explosive journey into government conspiracies, UFO coverups and secret bases.

Robert Scott Lazar, more commonly known as Bob, had appeared on Knapp's show in the previous May, but at the time he was an anonymous interviewee using the pseudonym "Dennis" and his face wasn't visible. It was on this day three decades ago that the public was first introduced to the unmasked Bob Lazar by name. His subsequent series of interviews fuelled conspiracy theories and focussed the public's attention on the secretive Area 51 base.

No matter what you think of Lazar's bold claims of his work as part of a classified government project working with recovered extraterrestrial spacecraft, you can't deny the Lazar's story is one of the most compelling and fascinating of its kind, even if it is nothing more than fiction.
"My name is Bob Lazar. I'm known for working at a classified base known as S-4 out in the Nevada dessert near Area 51 and there, we reverse-engineered alien spacecraft and it's changed my life a lot."
Bob Lazar, 'Bob Lazar: Area 51 & Flying Saucers'
Ufologists and skeptics alike have picked apart Lazar's claims for as long as he's been telling them, and he's stuck to his story to this very day. Described by some as a "UFO whistleblower", Lazar admits that can't definitively support his story with evidence, but he still has plenty of supporters.

His claims were strengthened by his seemingly intimate knowledge of the workings of the Nellis Air Force Base, which covers about 18 square miles on the southern edge of the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR) - a wider area that contains Area 51 and Lazar's own place of work, S-4. The frequent reports of unexplained glowing objects in the skies above the range also backed up what Lazar was telling the media.

Many of those who subscribe to his claims believe at least part of Lazar's elaborate tale. Most seem to think that his revelations are questionable in places, but think there might be some truth buried in there somewhere. Of course the majority of those who have looked into his claims have rejected them - even those in the UFO community think Lazar is too crazy even for them.

It wasn't long before debunkers found holes in Lazar's story. Most damaging was the revelation that Lazar had lied about his academic and employment history, including his claim that he holds degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and previously worked as a senior scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratories. His character was further tested in 1990 when he was arrested for his involvement with the operation of a brothel.

What Did Bob Lazar Claim?

The basis of Lazar's story was that thanks to his master's degree in physics from MIT and his time working at Los Alamos, he was able to gain work as a US military scientist at a secret facility codenamed S-4, 15 miles south of Area 51. He was part of a team that was assigned to back-engineer alien vehicles. He worked primarily on the crafts' propulsion technology, which he claimed was powered by an a substance that he called "element 115".

He also claimed to have been given access to documents that detailed how "grey" aliens from a planet orbiting the twin binary star system Zeta Reticuli have been involved in human affairs for at least the last 10,000 years. Although to date, no exoplanets have been found around these stars.

Despite making these claims on Knapp's local television show in 1989, it wasn't until 1992 that his story made national, and eventually global news after Lazar became a regular guest on Coast to Coast AM, an American late-night radio talk show that covers topics relating to the paranormal and conspiracy theories.

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Joe Rogan & Bob Lazar

After slipping away into relative obscurity over the last few years, Lazar gained further attention this year when he retold his story to podcast host, Joe Rogan. The extensive two-hour-long interview has notched up almost nine million views to date. He was thrown back into the spotlight after the release of a new documentary about his life was released. The film, entitled 'Bob Lazar: Area 51 & Flying Saucers', was directed by Jeremy Corbell and produced by Knapp. 

There were a couple of interesting revelations in the documentary, the first of which was Lazar retracting the claim he made in 1989 that he saw a live alien at the secret S-4 base. Lazar had originally said that he was being escorted along a corridor in the facility by armed guards. As he passed a door with a window in it, he saw out of the corner of his eye what he described as "something small with long arms". At the time Bob believed this was an extraterrestrial visitor, a "grey" alien - one of many who had been nicknamed "the kids" by the base staff.

In Corbell's film, Lazar admits that he may have been mistaken. He told the filmmaker, "I don't think I saw an alien at S-4". He says that the encounter was nothing more than a glance through a window. He added, "I think these guys had a doll in a small chair, which was similar to what was in the craft." This admission doesn't discredit Lazar's story, it doesn't strengthen it either. It does perhaps suggest that he, the media, or a combination of the two did get carried away by the story back in the late-80s and early-90s.

Another interesting moment in the documentary came when Corbell and Lazar were discussing a biometric security system that had been in use during Lazar's time working at S-4. Bob had always talked about a hand scanner, staff members would place their hand on the device's pins underneath a light. The device was able to measure the length of the bones in their fingers in order to determine a positive identity.

This type of technology would have been very advanced for the 1980s and its existence has never been proven, until recently. Corbell was able to find photographs of the device online. He told Lazar that "all of a sudden this article comes out and it says that at the Nellis Range there was indeed this hand scanner." According to Corbell the Air Force had admitted that they had been using this type of technology since the 80s and posted photographs.

Upon seeing the photos, a joyous Lazar said "I never thought I'd see one of these again." He added, "I tried to explain this to people so many times and they either didn't believe me or say 'yeah, I'm sure there is'." He then told Corbell, "I can't believe you found a picture of this. This was the scanner used to get in to S-4."

If this technology really has only just been made public knowledge, then it is pretty much the only part of Lazar's story that has been proven to be true since he first told it, but in general Lazar is no closer to proving his claims now 30 years on. However, no one has been able to prove for sure that every element of his story is fabricated either. If Lazar's story is true, then what was his original motivation?

Area S-4

Area 51, Nevada

One thing Lazar's stories did was put the secrets of the NTTR up for scrutiny by the general public. The whole test range is the size of a small country... literally. At 4,531 square miles the NTTR is about the same size as Jamaica. There is a no-fly zone over and around the base, in total 12,700 square miles of airspace is managed. That's an area of sky the size of Belgium.

The highly classified Area 51 is just a small part of the NTTR, which also allegedly contains the highly classified subsidiary facility called S-4. According to Lazar's description of S-4, the base was a combination of buildings and nine aircraft hangars built into the side of a mountain, their doors were allegedly made to blend in with the mountainside.

Lazar claims that he was flown into Area 51 on each visit on a daily chartered 737 flight from Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport. The flight would have taken him about 80 miles north of Vegas into the heart of the NTTR. Area 51 was only a transfer point for him, he was then taken by bus to the secret underground lab that he worked in at S-4. Lazar has been unable or unwilling to describe what visitors to the base first see when getting off the plane.

One part of the NTTR which isn't so secretive is the Nellis Air Force Base. On the base's official website, the air force say that thousands of members of the public visit Nellis each year and that a tour can be an excellent educational tool for those interested in learning more about the United States Air Force.

There are an unconfirmed reports that Lazar might have worked briefly as a contractor on the Nellis base, which could have given him an understanding of how the wider NTTR operates. He may have even been aware that the area around Papoose Lake was heavily protected and therefore chosen to set his fictional S-4 base there.

Lazar has stuck to this story for 30 years and in the time declassified CIA reports have identified Area 51 as a government facility and revealed its location. Despite this, because the whole range is so remote, so vast, and so protected by the air force and other government departments who are trying to hide their secrets, the public still have no idea of what, if anything, is being hidden at Papoose Lake.

Clearly NTTR does have its secrets, but modern day satellite photos and Google Maps show no sign of any concealed hangars in a mountainside near Papoose Lake.

During his time working at the base, Lazar would drive his friends and family out to Groom Lake, where every Wednesday night they'd bare witness to an impressive display of glowing objects. The bright lights would rise above the mountains and begin dancing around in the sky and were seen to be pulling off manoeuvres that would be impossible for any terrestrial craft to perform. At times they would come to a sudden and complete stop and seemingly hover.

Some people think that these weird lights might have been the result of an experimental proton beam produced by a particle accelerator - basically a massive, real-life Ghostbusters proton pack. They think that pumping this amount of energy into the air could produce glowing balls of plasma. Some think Lazar may have even known this to be the case but used the phenomenon to bolster his story - he claimed that these were flying saucer test flights and that the bright glow of the disc was due to the way they were energised.

The Alien Conspiracy

Bob Lazar UFO Drawing

Of course the thing Bob Lazar is best known for is the evidence he presented of a government coverup of extraterrestrial visitations to Earth and claims that the US government possess recovered alien technology.

Despite the extent of his claims and the amount of information he seems to have been exposed to, in his testimonies Lazar says he was only actually employed for a few months between November 1988 and April 1989, and on a "very infrequent basis". Being given access to such high-level secrets so quickly does seem a little unusual, and those familiar with classified government projects have been quick to point out that such rapid inclusion in a top secret project is not at all likely.

Lazar didn't see any actual alien beings himself at S-4, apart from the sighting of a small figure through a window that he has since retracted, but he did see plenty of alien technology. He saw a total of nine alien craft hidden in S-4's mountainside hangars and was given the chance to look inside one of them - a sleek flying saucer, constructed out of a metallic substance similar to stainless steel. He called this disc, the "sport model". Apparently he tried to sit in the craft's seats but found them too small for humans, which convinced him that they were of extraterrestrial in origin.

His role at S-4 was to back-engineer the advanced antimatter and gravity wave propulsions systems on one of these nine flying saucers. This meant he took apart and performed diagnostic tests on the finished component to find out how it works in order to eventually replicate the technology with Earth materials. Lazar said that he was one of just 22 people who were cleared to work on the craft, having been granted "majestic clearance".

Despite his high-level clearance, Lazar claimed that security was tight, with armed guards posted everywhere. He says he was even given an armed escort when he took a toilet break.

It's not really understood why Lazar would have been deemed suitable for this project. It seems he was a competent electronics engineer and a good problem solver, but not a highly commended or recognised physicist. His employment, if it ever really happened, might have been solely based on a recommendation from theoretical physicist, Edward Teller, whose credited as the "father of the hydrogen bomb" and is therefore quite influential within the US defence industry.

The vehicles were apparently powered by an antimatter reactor that used a mysterious substance known as "element 115" as its fuel. Lazar claimed that this was a stable eversion of an element that had not yet been synthesised on Earth.

Element 115

Element 115
Photo: © US Department of Energy

The unknown chemical element with atomic number 115 became a major talking point in Lazar's stories. He claimed that the extraterrestrial propulsion system uses a stable isotope of this super-heavy element to generate its power.

The small "chip" of element 115 was put inside of the system's antimatter reactor, which consists of a plate about 18 inches in square with a half-sphere on top. Once inside the 115 is bombarded with protons, which causes it to release antimatter particles. These particles will react with regular matter to create an annihilation reaction and a complete conversion of its matter to energy.

Lazar says that somewhere within that system there is a 100% efficient thermionic generator, that converts the heat from the annihilation into electrical energy. This power was transmitted around the spacecraft without wires. Lazar likens this to the work of Nikola Tesla, who first used a coil to transmits power to a fluorescent tube. Lazar said that each sub component on the craft was attuned to the frequency of the reactor.

However, electricity isn't the only thing the generator produces. Through some mechanic, which was not understood by the S-4 scientists, a gravitational field is formed at the sphere on top of the device.

This gravitational field is then "siphoned" off using components that Lazar described as "waveguides" and channeled to the lower part of the alien craft into three gravity amplifiers. These devices are what Lazar said allowed the device to travel through space. They amplify and direct that gravity waves produced by the reactor.

Lazar says that this method of propulsion didn't actually propel the craft through space in a linear fashion. Instead the three gravity amplifiers would converge to create a gravitational beam, which could pull a distant point in space towards the craft. The craft would then cling on to the point. As the gravitational beam was turned off that point in space would snap back to its original position, instantaneously taking the alien craft with it.

Even if we were able to replicate this technology, the fuel would still evade us. When Lazar first came out with his claims element 115 didn't exist and he claimed it couldn't be produced here on Earth, and could only come from a place where super-heavy elements could have been produced naturally.

Since then E115 has been artificially created on Earth, but when it was first synthesised in 2003 it wasn't given the name Lazarium, instead it was called Moscovium. The synthetic chemical element with atomic number 115 is extremely radioactive and its most stable known isotope, has a half-life of only 0.65 seconds - making it impossible to use as a fuel.

The fact element 115 has now been created in a lab does nothing to strengthen Lazar's claims. In fact quite the opposite, as we now know for sure that a stable version of the element is very unlikely to exist.

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Holes & Controversies

Bob Lazar: Area 51 And Flying Saucers

As you might have guessed, there are plenty of holes in Bob Lazar's story. The most damning are claims that he lied about his qualifications and previous roles within the scientific community.

What is known is that Lazar took an electronics courses at Pierce Junior College, Los Angeles in the late-70s, but claims that he went on to earn a master's degree in physics from MIT, and another in electronic technology from the Caltech. The problem is there are no records of Lazar attending either of these prestigious universities.

Of course Lazar claims that records of his academic achievements have been wiped clean by the government in an attempt to discredit him, but Lazar has also failed to correctly name any professors working at the universities at the time he said he was there.

As for his previous work credentials as a scientist working at the secretive Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. There is documented evidence that he worked here, however he was only ever subcontracted as a repair technician, not as a senior scientist.

For a while Lazar owned a photo lab and when he declared bankruptcy in the mid-80s, he listed his occupation as a self-employed film processor - not as a scientist. To this day he runs his own company, United Nuclear Scientific Equipment, which sells a various lab chemicals, chemical elements including radioactive ores, and scientific equipment. Would he really have been running a business on the side if he was employed in a secret government project?

The fact he doesn't have the qualifications or experience he claims to may sound trivial compared to his much grander claims of working on classified government projects and encountering alien technology, but these lies about his past raises a valid question - can we believe these elaborate stories of secret bases when they come from a man with a proven history of exaggeration and deceit?

What Really Happened?

Rachel, Nevada

For us the most logical explanation is that he was for a time employed by the US government somewhere within the NTTR, most likely as part of the Nellis Air Force Base - a "W-2" wage and tax statement confirms that he was employed by the government. It's probably also true that he was assigned to back-engineer advanced technologies.

However, as his employment would have been during the Cold War, it's more likely that he would have been diagnosing downed Soviet aircraft, rather than alien technology. The truth is, he might not have been told where the components he was working on had come from - perhaps he believed they were alien.

As part of a community that was already at that time fascinated by the legend of Area 51 and the phenomenon of UFO sightings, it doesn't take much of a leap of the imagination to go from back-engineering unknown military technology to otherworldly propulsion systems.

Of course, we could be wrong. One blogger has another elaborate theory on why Bob Lazar might have gone public with the claims that he did.

Lazar Lied To 'Save His Ass'

Tom Mahood ran a website called Bluefire in the 1990s at the height of Lazar's fame. He primarily wrote about Area 51 and examined Lazar's claims. Tom eventually stopped actively updating the website in 1997, and in 2007 he took it off line. But as a former authority on Lazar's claims, Tom recently wrote a retrospective piece about Lazar around the time of the release of Jeremy Corbell's documentary.

In the extensive blog post, Tom gives his thoughts on why he thinks Lazar came out with his outlandish story and he thinks is was all about "saving his ass".

Tom's version of events starts when Lazar was living in Los Alamos, where he worked as a subcontractor in the National Laboratory. It was also in Los Alamos that he set up his photo processing business and would deliver photos on his homemade jet-powered car, presumably primarily as a marketing gimmick.

His wacky method of transport soon got him noticed and before long he was featured in the local paper. The article described him as a physicist working at Los Alamos lab... which is sort of true, he was clearly an amateur rocket scientist and he did work in the labs, just not as a scientist.

The day after that article was published, real physicist Edward Teller, came to town to give a lecture at the lab. Tom thinks it seems likely that Lazar and Teller met, and due to the newspaper's inaccurate credit given to Lazar, he was able to impress Teller. This chance meeting later proved invaluable for Lazar.

In 1985 Lazar relocated to Las Vegas and briefly worked for a defence project in the Nellis Air Force Base. Tom thinks that it was probably during his time here that he heard rumours about what was going on at Groom Lake - the location of the infamous Area 51.

Eventually Lazar learnt that his former acquaintance, Teller, was connected to EG&G, a national defence contractor, and that this company was involved with the activities at Groom Lake. Tom speculates that in 1988 Lazar probably got in contact with Teller, reminding him that he was the scientist he met at Los Alamos and that he'd be perfect for a job at Area 51.

Remember those strange glowing lights in the sky over Groom Lake caused by a proton beam? Tom thinks this is the project that Teller put Lazar to work on, hence why he started bringing his friends out to see the Wednesday night tests. Of course he couldn't tell his friends what he was working on as it was classified, so he told them his farfetched flying saucer story as a cover, which they bought.

Unfortunately for Lazar, on one occasion the Lincoln County Sheriff caught the gang suspiciously close to Groom Lake and the next day Lazar was summoned to the Indian Springs Auxiliary Airfield where he was questioned by the Groom Lake security officers. At this point Lazar must have realised how close to jail he was and all he had in his defence was the fact that he'd lied to his friends about the nature of the tests and not actually revealed any government secrets.

The base decided to kick Lazar off of the project without taking any further action, probably to avoid drawing any further attention to the case, but unbeknownst to the security services, Lazar had already gained a level of notoriety locally amongst his friends and followers.

This attention eventually lead to Lazar's interview on Knapp's television show. Tom thinks that Lazar might have viewed this appearance as insurance, heightening his profile should Groom Lake's security decide to come after him again. But, in order to boost his profile, Lazar had to elaborate on his flying saucer story, and has had to stick to that story ever since because it keeps him out of jail.

Tom's full blog post on the subject goes into a lot more detail and is well worth a read, you can find it here.

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