You can see Janet airplanes at several airports throughout the U.S. You can hear them on air traffic control. You can fly one in Microsoft Flight Simulator X. But you can’t buy a ticket on a Janet flight, and the people who fly on Janet flights can’t tell you, or even their families, what they do for work. It is seemingly an airline that flies to nowhere.
The multi-tiered secrecy surrounding the Janet jets, the unusual ways they operate and the places they go are one of aviation’s greatest legends. If it all seems like a big clandestine operation, that’s because it is.
Why is there a fleet of unmarked airliners at a guarded private terminal in Las Vegas? Where do they fly? Who flies aboard them? Even though these aircraft service the seemingly impenetrable top secret defense world, we can provide some answers.
No, “Janet Airlines” isn’t the shadowy carrier’s official name. That name stuck and became widely accepted once aviation enthusiasts discovered that the curious aircraft based out of a small private terminal (code named “Gold Coast”) on the west side of McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas use the callsign “Janet” while operating in civilian airspace.
It’s when Janet flights cross from civilian airspace into restricted military airspace that things get really interesting. One of the places these Janet 737’s go is located inside the airspace described as R-4808N on the map below. “The Box,” or “The Container,” as R-4808N is known, is off-limits. It is restricted airspace within restricted airspace, and incursions into its sanctum are most unwelcome. And yet, the unassuming white and red 737’s are shepherded through routinely, where they disappear before reappearing after different lengths of time.
On takeoff from Las Vegas, Janet flights communicate with McCarran Departure Control using a callsign like “Janet 210,” or “Janet 301.” Once airborne, the Janet proceeds northwest and McCarran Departure hands them off to Nellis Control. Nellis Control supervises the busy airspace across the southern part of Nevada.