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Russian spy plane flies over Area 51, 10+ other US military sites

A Russian Tu-154M aircraft taxis by a 22nd Air Refueling Wing KC-135 Stratotanker on McConnell’s flightline Aug. 29, 2011, McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. Team McConnell provided host base support operations for the August 2011 Open Skies team. The Open Skies Treaty was established in 1992 to enhance mutual understanding and confidence by allowing participants to gather information about military forces and activities. (Senior Airman Maria A. Ruiz/U.S. Air Force )
April 01, 2019

A Russian spy plane flew over Area 51 and several other military bases in the U.S. last week for a surveillance mission.

The Tu-154M plane equipped with electro-optical imaging systems landed in Great Falls, Mont., on Wednesday to begin its surveillance mission of U.S. military installations as authorized under the Open Skies Treaty, The Drive reported.

The surveillance flight flew over sites in California and Nevada, including Area 51 at Nellis Test and Training Range (NTTR).

According to flight plan data gathered by The Drive, the Russian Tu-154M flew over Naval Air Station Lemoore, Edwards Air Force Base, Fort Irwin, Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake and Creech Air Force Base before it headed to the secure airspace over NTTR.

The plane’s other flight covered Hill Air Force Base, Nellis Air Force Base, Air Force Plant Palmdale and then Travis Air Force Base.

The surveillance mission spanned between March 28 and 29, and included U.S. officials to observe on the flight and ensure treaty compliance. The plane reportedly returned to Russia on March 30.

“The United States has conducted three Treaty missions over Russia so far in 2019,” Pentagon spokesman Johnny Michael told Fox News before the flight. “Per Treaty procedures, the United States will inspect the aircraft and U.S. observers will be on board the Russian aircraft to monitor all phases of the observation flight over U.S. territory, to ensure Treaty compliance.”

The Open Skies Treaty went into effect in 2002, permitting its 34 member nations to conduct surveillance flights over one another’s territories for transparency and goodwill.

This was the first Open Skies surveillance mission Russia carried out in the U.S. in 2019. During February alone, the U.S. has carried out three missions in Russia with its specially retrofitted OC-135B plane.

In late February, the Pentagon confirmed the U.S. took its first surveillance flight over Russia in nearly a year and a half. Six Russian Federation observers were on board to monitor the mission.

Last year, the U.S. and Russia were at an impasse on Open Skies flights amid tensions.

In September 2018, Russian officials argued that the U.S. rejected requests to certify Russian planes to conduct surveillance over the U.S., Defense News reported at the time. The imaging equipment on a Russian Tu-214ON plane reportedly hadn’t met the treaty requirements.

Days later, experts conducted reviews and inspections of the Russian plane and voted to certify it.

The U.S. is permitted to conduct 16 annual surveillance flights over Russia out of 42 permitted by all member nations. It did not conduct any flights over Russia in 2018, however, due to the “impasse” in treaty talks.