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I stumbled upon this map of northern Quebec the other day, and what really struck me was just how empty the interior was. No populated places, no roads, no navigable rivers - as far as I know no people at all live outside those dozen coastal villages. My first thought was: villain lair!

I understand that the landscape is not exactly lush, but at the same time it is not uninhabitable. There is soil, it only freezes for six months a year (at least for nearby Schefferville), so a well-motivated and well-funded villainous billionaire could surely build their own evil lair there, from which to execute secret experiments.

The number one goal here is absolute privacy for the villain. Nobody must know about this base. So eventually the lair must become mostly self-sufficient, through local food production with greenhouses, solar or nuclear energy, etc. Once constructed, the base should only require the very occasional supply of essential parts that cannot be manufactured locally. Also they should be covering up the roof with heat-insulating materials that look like the surrounding terrain, to fool satellite imagery. I consider that solvable.

A bigger hurdle is the construction phase, when a great volume of materials need to be transported to the wilderness site without drawing attention from nosy locals. The logistics are the challenge; how to get construction materials to the base without anyone ever getting the idea that there is anything at all at the location of the base.

One idea: construction could start with a small seaplane that lands in one of the lakes in the Quebec interior, transporting mostly employees who will construct a few tents and a new landing strip out of local materials like pebbles. This landing strip will support a larger plane, e.g. a Bombardier Dash 8 which is a kind of plane already often used locally. This plane will transport more goods and people, allowing crews to set up the first buildings. The end goal is an even larger landing strip that can support true cargo planes, which will be bringing in stuff like the nuclear reactor.

The issue is doing all of covertly. The seaplane can take off from a ship in the Hudson's bay. The cargo plane has enough range that it can take off anywhere and just enter Quebec airspace without its transponder on. The Bombardier phase is the trickiest. Those planes do not have enough range for international flights but they cannot depart from an aircraft carrier either.

My idea involves the villain setting up a local airline company that feigns transporting goods to the northern communities, such as Kuujjuaq... but something has to actually land up north for these flights to not draw attention. Making the planes transport half their capacity to the north while dropping off the other half in the base would be suspect as well - people know how much that craft can carry.

I need some justification for a line of propeller planes to get loads of cargo to an unknown location. Bribing a few people like fueling station attendees is possible, but the fewer people in the know the better.


I truly appreciate every answer and all the time that has been put into them, but right now over half answers are frame challenges and/or suggest disguising the secret base as something else. That is not what the question is about, and it is not what I want to do with this story.

The villain lair is to be entirely off the map. Nobody except the villain and his associates are to know that anything at all is located in that part of Quebec.

The design of the base, or how to covertly construct the base, is off-topic.

The question is about covertly transporting materials to the building site.

These frame challenges are just not helpful to me. A base that's completely off every map has unique story properties that I just do not want to sacrifice.

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    $\begingroup$ you will never hide large scale construction, all you can do is hide what you are constructing. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 23, 2021 at 13:33
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    $\begingroup$ @John Seems a bit defeatist. Surely by being patient and camouflaging everything as it is being built, you could avoid standing out too much from the wilderness? Keep in mind that this is not a piece of Canada that will get new satellite pictures taken daily. Nobody expects to find anything there so they won't devote resources to charting it. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Aug 23, 2021 at 13:38
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    $\begingroup$ The government found an entirely underground pot farm because to many dump trucks went to a single remote house, another was discovered because it was noticed on seismic monitors, no matter where your bases is traffic in an out either during construction or afterwards will be noticed. you can hide what you are building but not that you are building $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 23, 2021 at 14:00
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    $\begingroup$ @DuncanDrake To be honest that's not really the scope of the question. I'm mainly interested in the covert material transportation issue (and there will definitely be a bunch of materials that cannot be sourced locally, like the nuclear reactor and the laser shark aquarium), but as much of the initial base will be prefab - at least until there's a landing strip for a bigger cargo plane. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Aug 23, 2021 at 18:05
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    $\begingroup$ What about the planes simply flying over said area and dropping the cargo? A cover-up line haul airline, a few bribed air traffickers that can overlook some cargo leaving origin but never reaching destination... $\endgroup$
    – Josh Part
    Aug 23, 2021 at 21:38

19 Answers 19

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Don't fly, use ships!

Airplanes are expensive, not exactly inconspicuous, and require a lot of support hardware (landing strip, control towers, ground crew, fueling, etc). Most of all though, they just can't carry a lot. Providing materials to construction projects via air (helicopter or plane) is one of the most expensive things you can do in construction, short of launching your construction into space.

Say for example, you want to use concrete in constructing your secret base. The Bombardier, with a payload of ~8500 kg can only carry ~340 standard bags in one flight, and this comes out to only ~3.5 cubic meters of concrete. That's nothing! A basic, single-story residential home with basement will run you somewhere north of 60 cubic meters, which means that you would simply need an absolutely ludicrous amount of flights to construct anything approaching a "secret base" (not a secret shack). Sure, a fake tourism company or whatever might allow you to fly planes with impunity, but to supply the concrete you'd need to have planes landing every couple minutes or so.

This means to construct anything of a reasonable size, you need better access to the site. This can be a road, or considering how much coastal terrain northern Quebec has, a ship. A ship can carry thousands of kilograms, including things like cement mixer trucks or crane trucks.

So, I'd suggest:

  1. Buy a decently large ship, and paint it like an arctic research vessel. Launch this ship somewhere on the east coast of the USA, and have it head northwards into the Hudson Strait and Bay.
  2. Once there, locate a bay that's deep and secluded and park your research ship there. If anyone gets nosy, scare them away by saying you're doing a delicate environmental survey or something.
  3. Deploy a small construction crew to build a covert dock. Maybe dig the bay a bit deeper so that you can accommodate ships with a bigger draft, and start building a road that leads inland
  4. Buy a couple large ferries and repaint/camouflage them to look like luxury cruise liners. Register these with a fake company offering arctic tours,
  5. Covertly load a bunch of construction vehicles like cement mixers, backhoes, cranes, etc into your converted ferries and sneak them northwards to your secret bay.
  6. Unload the construction vehicles and construct your road/base. Because ships can be loaded at any port on the east coast, loading construction vehicles won't appear too suspcious.
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    $\begingroup$ I was going to protest , because a bay is something that privately owned sailing vessels may want to explore and they would notice the dock and roads... but then I thought: secret canal entrance that opens up for the right boat Incredibles-style :D This is a great answer. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Aug 24, 2021 at 9:23
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    $\begingroup$ @KeizerHarm also, use a nasty looking bay. Plus do what another comment elsewhere posted: hide WHAT you're doing, not that youre doing something. So just build a small-ish logging & fishing facility/factory there. Fishing especially since nobody wants to go near industrial fishing areas, they smell. That way the road to the interior isnt as random (yeah, its going seemingly nowhere, but maybe thats the logging route). The logging (if that area has trees lol), will also hide your logging required for the base AND reforestation projects on top of it after construction. $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Aug 24, 2021 at 15:24
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    $\begingroup$ @Hobbamok About ten people have already said the same exact thing xD That's not feasible. I want to hide THAT something is happening. I want terra nullius, I want off the map. I cannot state that enough times. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Aug 24, 2021 at 15:30
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    $\begingroup$ @KeizerHarm mate you misread my comment. I was talking about conceiling exclusively the shipping dock from where you get your materials off-grid. The actual base is constructed elsewhere (though it may be close enough so your dock installation can provide further help). This is how you actually go off the map. Because it gives you a private port, a private road in the absolute nowhere to unload your materials, a legit shipping adress for mail /contracts etc. Going from civilisation directly to hidden is almost impossible. This way you layer the secrecy, a buffer for the actual base $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Aug 24, 2021 at 15:34
  • $\begingroup$ None of that will work. The Canadian Coast Guard tracks every single vessel that goes through the Passage, including single-person small sailboats. In order for a research vessel or cruise ship to go through, they are required to undergo an environmental screening and receive the proper permitting, and can be randomly inspected at any time. The Coast Guard and Canadian Forces routinely run exercises specifically to identify anyone trying to pull this off, and any ship will stand out like a sore thumb. $\endgroup$ Jul 18, 2022 at 22:55
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Frame challenge you can't make in invisible, hide it in plain sight

you will never hide large scale construction, all you can do is hide what you are constructing. large equipment, large scale purchases, millions of tons of earth that need to be moved, all of that leaves a huge obvious signal. You can't land cargo planes that can move construction equipment on a small runway you need something huge, the dash 8 is not a cargo plane that can move heavy equipment, not equipment capable of large scale construction. Concrete, solar panels , nuclear cooling, and passive greenhouses are obvious, hidden greenhouses need a lot of power. But your biggest problem is the sheer volume of material you need to move to build a base of any size bot in terms excavation and cargo, governments and private citizens take notice of these kinds of thing in national parks.

You need to build something you can hide traffic in, like a remote hotel. During the cold war the US wanted to build an emergency bunker for politicians, they concluded it was impossible to do it in secret, the only thing they could do was disguise it as something else, that's what they did disguise it as a part of a massive renovation of an existing remote resort hotel. Project "Greek island". Almost 50 years after it was built its existence was leaked and you can now take tours of the bunker since its existence was decommissioned. Here is a great documentary on the bunker. Oversight on hotel is fairly minimal and could probably be bribed out of existence.

I suggest taking the page from the US government textbook and build a resort hotel, then you can hide whatever you want in the normal traffic too and from the hotel. This has the benefit that you can rotate and replace staff, you can but food (even villians crave pizza on occasion), and your villain can go on vacation if they want. more importantly you can get medical supplies and new equipment when old equipment is outdated or damaged. You can have solar or geothermal power constructed for the hotel and oversize it, build your solar or geothermal plant a few miles from the hotel, then hide your base under the solar plant which is "built a good distance from the hotel as to not disturb the guests view" that way you can put up an fence and surveillance that will keep guests from getting to close. you can even post guards disguised as maintenance crews.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Aug 24, 2021 at 14:40
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    $\begingroup$ Nobody ever looks in chat so I'll repost the top-level comment: I recognise your view but disguising the base is frankly not something I wish to do. A place being totally off the map has a ton of interesting features. Something on the map on the other hand always attracts visitors, and visitors will snoop around, unless it is something like a closed city and those have government oversight instead, which the villain will also be hurt by. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Aug 24, 2021 at 14:42
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    $\begingroup$ Disguise as a remote mining operation. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Aug 24, 2021 at 15:14
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    $\begingroup$ One nit: you definitely can land a cargo plane that can move construction equipment on gravel, the An-124 fleet is gravel-capable (the L-5 would be too if any was built). The gravel strip still has to be large enough though, so still easily noticed on satellite images. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Aug 25, 2021 at 5:09
  • $\begingroup$ @JanHudec good catch I will edit. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 25, 2021 at 5:15
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Parachutes and weather

Why bother landing your planes? It's easier to mask a flyover than a stopover - and it's easier to engineer a convergence of flight paths than to hide a bunch of landings.

So here's the plan:

  1. Set up/blackmail an air freight company
  2. Have them fly regular daily trips passing several hundred km away from your base
  3. Whenever you want a payload dropped at your base, make some excuse about high levels of turbulence in your normal flight path and make a detour. Or to be more covert, actually wait until there is bad weather in your flight path.
  4. Drop the load out the back as you fly over.

To help hide things further, you could drop all your payloads to the bottom of nearby valleys, and then move them via low-altitude-heli flight (below radar floor) to the actual site. Now not even the freight pilots know where your base is!

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  • $\begingroup$ With self-steering parachutes under software control, if you drop stuff from a height then it can travel a decent distance laterally. That could also be used for your final paragraph condition. $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Aug 24, 2021 at 6:20
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Test drilling for oil.

In Namibia's Okavango region a recent test drilling was set-up. Simple sentence, sounds easy as if there's not much to it. On the contrary:

The rig, retrofitted for drilling in the desert, had arrived in December on the 600-foot-long transport ship Yellowstone, also laden with at least 23 massive trucks for pulling loads, bundles of drill pipe, and seismic testing systems on trucks with off-road tractor tires.

It takes lots and lots of equipment and personnel/accommodation and support infrastructure to conduct an operation like this. Naturally, in order to accomplish this by air, it would take lots and lots, much more than the above quote.

Of course, the expectation that private security forces would protect the equipment: armed mercenaries are routinely used in this sort of operation to prevent sabotage by rival energy interests. To prevent the nature of the shipped-out gear from raising eyebrows, the whole thing would need to be packed in containers and shipped under guard - quite routine where big-energy oil and gas are concerned.

Any surplus personnel, or those with too many questions would naturally be recycled into fertilizer for growing food. Headline: "The site was abandoned, lack of the expected natural resources and too-many on-site accidents because of the harsh environment are blamed."

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  • $\begingroup$ It's an idea, but it will leave the broad public aware of a ruined oil rig at the exact location of the villain base. That is a place that some wild tourists/explorers may want to visit, that students may want to photograph from their cubesats or people with private jets use as a reference point... I want the villain base to be totally off the record. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Aug 23, 2021 at 12:41
  • $\begingroup$ I'll be amazed if anyone comes up with an answer which gets around the pervasive satellite surveillance we have globally and still gets sufficient equipment in place for a self-sustaining base (nuclear reactor included) and all the conspicuous activity of building it. @KeizerHarm It strikes me that a cover story might be the only viable option, it's your story though. $\endgroup$ Aug 23, 2021 at 13:19
  • $\begingroup$ I did cover satellite surveillance; the base can be visually and thermally camouflaged to look just like the surrounding wilderness. It won't be perfect, but that is why it is crucial that nobody is aware of the base or of anything at all existing in that location. Then nobody will look at it with high enough resolution to notice anything off. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Aug 23, 2021 at 13:21
  • $\begingroup$ test drilling requires government oversight. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 23, 2021 at 13:35
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    $\begingroup$ @John Sure, and for some reason the paperwork to get that done never seemed to complete. Every time they fixed one problem, they somehow managed to cause another one. So the inspectors never showed up and they were never legally able to actually do any test drilling. $\endgroup$ Aug 23, 2021 at 20:19
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Fake tourist company

Your landing strip can be fairly simple: Your seaplane lands on a lake in summer. Your heavy cargo plane lands on the same lake, frozen thick, in winter. This limits your heavy deliveries to the six months of winter, but that's normal for the area. It also means your landing strip is fairly easy to conceal from those pesky satellites, and all evidence vanishes entirely with the spring thaw.

Meanwhile...

There are many small companies in the Canadian north that serve tourists, hunters, and outdoor enthusiasts. Set up a fake one.

  • The air-tour, seaplane, and helicopter departments delivers a limited amount of goods in the summer, and provide a plausible consumer of aircraft, spare parts, tools, equipment, and fuel.

  • The lodging and catering departments house your workforce -- so they don't go wandering to to town, getting drunk, and blabbing about the secret base they are building ("Oy, and then he wants a pool full of piranhas and a self-destruct button! What a wierdo!"). They also provide a plausible consumer of the food and living goods to supply your workforce and then later your base.

  • The mooks you employ as your "guides" keep people away. They spread the word around that such-and-such area has little worthwhile game, poor fishing, and should be avoided. They will also be the ones employed when nosy secret agents come looking for your base, and can ensure those sexy agents find nothing.

  • Only your air pilot(s) need to know the true location of the base, so you need a firm hold on their loyalty. Your minion running the front company need not know the base location. The guides know only the zone-of-discouragement that you tell them...and that can be thousands of square miles.

  • Don't take real customers ("Oh, sorry, we're booked that week"). Do accept reservations from those secret agents, and have a real (boring) hunting-and-fishing trip ready for them. They will return with their catch...and nothing else.

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It seems that the concern is utmost secrecy at all costs, so I'd like to make an answer reflecting that approach.

I will assume that no "public" are allowed to know about this construction project whatsoever, but that the construction and operations personnel are "goons" that can be trusted within whatever villainous organization is responsible for building the lair.

As others have mentioned, aircraft are essentially out of the question for a secretive construction project: they confer supplies inefficiently, appear on RADAR, and are visible on satellite imagery. The best solution I have come up with for transporting larger cargoes secretively to Northern Quebec would be by covert submarine, a technique increasingly used by smugglers (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narco-submarine). A fleet of 3-4 submarines could transport many tons of cargo, supplies, and personnel from a passing ships (disguised as a research vessel, cruise ship, or cargo barge) every day, and literally go "under the radar".

Highly trained underwater construction goons could then begin a lengthy, expensive and difficult excavation of an underwater submarine dock, like the one seen here: https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/21/asia/china-submarine-underground-base-satellite-photo-intl-hnk-scli/index.html. Once a foothold is established, the underground base could be expanded to include more facilities (water treatment, power generation, aquaponics for food, secret laboratories, etc). Depending on need for secrecy the base could either be built right into the side of the body of water, or a long tunnel could be bored into the land, and electric vehicles (assembled from parts transported by sub) used to ferry goods along the route.

One potential risk is that vibrations from the underground construction might be detected by seismic sensors. A work-around for this would be to set up a mining/drilling operation somewhere in the vicinity (but not close enough to reveal the base) through a shell corp. Any vibrations from lair construction could be mistakenly attributed to the decoy operation.

A great added benefit of the base being constructed in this manner is that necessary supplies (rare parts for instance) could now be transported in via submersible without arousing any additional suspicion.

Loose Ends

Depending on the "evil-ness" of your villain, unneeded goons (such as underwater construction personnel) could be covertly eliminated once their purpose has been served. Adrian Veidt / Ozymandias used a similar technique for his hidden lair in Watchmen.

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Slight frame challenge: its an airship landing test facility.

You are a billionaire villain, you can afford to be a bit eccentric about your plan. So instead you set up and use a Hybrid airship design like the airlander: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hybrid_Air_Vehicles_Airlander_10

Hybrid airships have some unique properties you want for this task: they can land in remote area's with low requirements for the landing area. Even the WWII airships are likely tougher than the most robust modern aircraft making them great for extended missions in the wilderniss. They can carry many tons and with a bit of ingenuity they could be used as cranes at the area.

Ofcourse, why would these airships land there? Well holding on to your nigh monopoly on functioning hybrid airships means spending a lot of time perfecting them, so you have a test facility for landing procedures in an inhospitable environment. Those men and materials you bring there? Test equipment, ballast, live training excercises with people in learning to load and unload in rough terrain or after a local disaster. Ofcourse there's prefab materials bring brought over! How else would you train building in remote area's? And you are going to need some backup facilities in case something goes wrong and people get stuck there for 6 months right? So some heat-based activity isn't suspect (especially since shielding the heat from your base just means the base heats up, you need to spread and radiate that heat across vast area's somehow without it being noticed unless you have a valid reason for it to be noticed in the first place).

Edit:

To satisfy the "secret" thing. Once all construction is finished the site is "scrapped", most exterior buildings and equipment is demolished and taken away. Other sites nearby are used for the same purposes as before, only you dont build a lair there. You can easily claim that the expenditure of the old site was too high to hide the difference in cost for building a secret lair compared to the new sites.

Ofcourse occasionally a small emergency cargo delivery and extraction training is conducted on a site nearby the old spot. A hidden tunnel from the lair exits nearby, letting you ferry men, materials and waste in and out of the lair. Anyone that goes snooping will find just a barren training area and nothing else.

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You seem quite concerned with not leaving any trace, and since you already are talking about a billonaire villan i guess we can take a more expensive aproach:

Travel most of the way through cave systems and inside them make the necessary paths to your location. when everything is over just make a cave-in on the path and no more path

A lot of people forgets that cave systems are way more common and extensive that what you're lead to believe. if you don't mind the time it will take the gooks to work through it a rough plan will be something like:

  1. Choose a less know cave system entrance away from your base. (old mines are your friends)
  2. find the best place to make a deviation and start working on a secret tunnel up until your base site.
  3. once you have reached your base site start expanding there and making room for your necessities.
  4. add a simple rail system on your caves-path and start sending materials and equipment to your base. If you want to be extra careful let your goons carry them manualy until they reach your secret tunnel.
  5. once the required materials and construction has finished you can choose to use a cave in and block the entire cave path or to make a secret door system and leave it there as a quite secret escape route.

This way you can keep all your construction underneath the eyes of satellites while enjoying the speed and capacity of a small train system. Since the entrance is a cave system you can just put guards and repel people with excuses like there was a cave-in and is dangerous or that its a reserve for ecological reasons.

The obvious drawbacks are costs, time and manpower, since you'll be literally digging through the earth to carry/move stuff. If you choose to use a mine project as cover keep in mind that you'll still need to make it far enough of your base as to make people thin they're unrelated.

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A tourist location.

Find some natural landmark that looks reasonably pretty, and send several minions flush with cash to brag about visiting it or ask for help visiting it.

Then, have each plane fly towards the natural landmark, visiting it, flying around a bit, and return.

The only cargo is people, which can return, and this gives a handy excuse for if any locals spot anything. Make sure your minions offer some locals generous bribes to support the tourist industry so no one complains to the government about it too much.

It's not unusual for people to visit obscure tourist locations, and generous bribes will keep the locals from complaining. If the location actually gets popular someone you can just review bomb online reviews.

For heavy loads.

Start a tourism hub near the location where you sell extremely overpriced trinkets. Have minions 'buy' them on occasion while wearing expensive clothes. Your cargo planes can carry exotic fruits and other rare goods and sell them at massively inflated prices that would justify cargo planes flying them in regularly.

Of course, this leaves a lot of cargo space for the real heavy goods.

Naturally you can hire a few locals and pay taxes and such so that the locals don't really care.

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  • $\begingroup$ That can help for the seaplane stage, but the mid-sized propeller planes I am asking about would be transporting a lot of cargo. Prefab buildings, asphalt for the new landing strip, etc. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Aug 23, 2021 at 10:44
  • $\begingroup$ I added a suggestion on how to handle heavy loads. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Aug 23, 2021 at 11:21
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Pretend some plane crashes

Unluckily this is a strategy that couldn't be used too often (repeated aircrashes draw attention), but you may probably exploit it in order to send staff or some sensitive equipment to the villain lair.

The airplane lands on the site of the villain lair and unloads its cargo and staff. Then it is remote-guided to crash to some place that is some dozens km's far from the lair.

In order to explain why there are no bodies or cargo on the crash site, the authorities will be told that probably the cargo was jettisoned after the plane was in trouble, and that wild animals disposed of the victims of the crash. Officially the cargo of the plane was something of no relevant prize (building materials, food), so it wouldn't trigger any more research.

The problem is that when more the 3-4 planes have acidents in the same region in a short time frame, your shipments could start to draw too much attention, so it is important to use this technique only when the importance of the load is very critical (or when you need to bring staff to the base).

For "normal" equipment, you could paradrop it on the site, then still explain at the official airport of arrival that part of the cargo needed to be jettisoned.

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  • $\begingroup$ plane crashes however draw a lot of attention from government and otherwise. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 24, 2021 at 3:23
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Hide it in plain sight :)

Just establish cargo shipping company and ship a lot of cargo over long range. The villain lair should be near the half of the way an not very far of it build "private improvised air refuiling station" (with one landing lane). Buy those Bombardiers with short range and use them (because you could buy them cheap or any other tale).

Establish road from some gas statition to your refueling station and let one truck bring the fuel there for your carriers/bombardiers.

All this you can do openly.

Secretly: Make hidden tunel from the refueling station to any "hidden place" near (like next walley or so), just good for another truck, maybe you can use also ship for part of the way and it would end in villain lair (in hidden harbour, or at end of another tunell or something like that.) - That is "last mile carrier", but more like "last 10-100 miles". And the "tunel" may be just road masked in similar means like your lair to hide tracks from airport to your base from aerial scanning.

Now you nead accomplice on the other end of your air line, which would regulary buy and sell a lot of big boxes (stating any content is somehow probable, like selling "pure arctic watter" or anything else)

You will just buy your villaneous stuff in big boxes in civilisation, send it over you shipping company, the aircraft would land in middle to refuel and you people would swith the cargo with boxes full of soil, or rocks or what is convenient. Once the aircraft is refueled, it will continue to destination and transfer those boxes to your accomplice, who will sign, that content is ok. In exchange he will load anoter batch of boxes (well with soil or watter bottles, who cares), aircraft would again refuel and you will change some boxes with whatever you need to get to civilisation.

There would wait another accomplice, who would accept it all, dispatch "special" cargo to one target and regular one to another (well better just boxes with even number here and odd number there, while numbers looks just random).

So far Pilot knows about cargo changes, but does not know what and why, the exchange would do your people from secret base, who simply does not talk to anybody. Accomplice 1 may know nearly nothing (just that he is paid for accepting and sending boxes around), accomplice 2 just knows, that he should redirect all incomming boxes to accomplice 1 and part of outgoing boxes to target 1 and the rest to target 2.

Fuelmaster know about fuel, which is ok and does look away at the time on switching cargo.

Target 1 is just another garbage man, who fills and disposes dirt from boxes as directed and send them to accomplice 2, while not knowing why (just to pretend constant flow of material), Target 2 is you real agent to contacting civilisation, acquring things for you and send equipement to your people around the globe.

You have controll over all, who knows things and those, who knows just part knows nearly nothing and there is few of them and mainly unrelated.

You even may also provide publice service, as post and other cargo to/from target area, to improve money flow and maybe even send some "pure arctic watter" if you have company to really sell it :)

Also in time of needs you can bring new screw in those boxes, or dispatch your armies that way :)

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You don't mean "nothing there" you mean an "empty piece of untouched wilderness".

Hmm so you need to smuggle a huge amount of mass into a very remote area, accessible by only plane and sea plane.

Ideas:

2 lakes

choose 2 lakes develop 1 publicly as a the cover and have one that is developed secretly and is officially untouched wilderness. Have them be relatively close 30 - 60 miles so the fuel requirements to fly to each are similar. All the flights are going officially to the official lake, but many of the flights go to the secret lake. Since you control the records at both lakes you fake having them both go to the official lake.

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My idea involves the villain setting up a local airline company that feigns transporting goods to the northern communities.

Frame challenge: those communities get their goods via truck, not via air.

Even if you had a better idea, i.e.: send stuff via air to places that actually get those via air, but deviate some aircraft to your base - many airports will see you as a beacon in their radars from an absurd distance.

Instead of being unseen, feign being something else. Check Alert on Wikipedia. Right at the first paragraph we have this gem:

Alert, in the Qikiqtaaluk Region, Nunavut, Canada(...) is the northernmost continuously inhabited place in the world(...) As of the 2016 census, the population was 0.

Ok, so right after that it says:

All Alert residents are temporary, typically serving six month tours of duty there.

That's your contractors building your base. Now the final part of the cover:

Alert's temporary inhabitants staff a military signals intelligence radio receiving facility at Canadian Forces Station Alert (CFS Alert), as well as a co-located Environment Canada weather station, a Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) atmosphere monitoring observatory, and the Alert Airport.

So there. Everybody thinks it is a military base. That and the distance from civilization justify the airport. But it's actually your villain's lair.

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    $\begingroup$ By truck? You tell me on what road a truck drives to Kuujjuaq, or any of the other places. Alert is also a bit too remote; Quebec could at least potentially be arable with a billionaire's purse, but that far up north there's no way for crops to grow unless you import the soil too. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Aug 23, 2021 at 14:39
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    $\begingroup$ And a military base is something the government will be very interested in, and the government is another set of eyes that the villain wants to evade. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Aug 23, 2021 at 14:44
  • $\begingroup$ @KeizerHarm depending on who you ask, the government is a league of villains who want to evade the public's eyes too. Your villain could very well be a member of parliament. $\endgroup$ Aug 23, 2021 at 14:56
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Governmental assistance

Have you seen the movie 'American made'? It is about the government supporting a pilot to do drug runs. As an insanely rich villian you have a few criminal trades for which the the government is looking the other way. We can use this for the base. The government might have some idea that in an area 1/4th of Quebec you are doing something, but aren't interested in any details for plausible deniability.

All that might be known, even facilitated, is the starting airstrip(s). Big enough for a growing organisation to add more planes. Everything for that off the books extra cash for the CIA. You are expected to have cargo planes of certain sizes. You just divert a large amount starting from this airstrip to the covert airstrip. These can be the real cargo planes, possibly even with rocket boosters for short runways.

The locals won't know anything, as there are no locals close to the covert airfield. It would be a poor covert evil lair if a farmer a hectare away is coming for a cup of sugar, or wondering why there's a ton of planes landing there.

That is all you need. People looking the other way, intentionally not wanting to know what is happening as they get rich. Other people are easily dissuaded by the government or your organisation. Even if some people know what is happening the range of the planes makes the potential area of the base just too big to easily pinpoint.

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It's already been done by modern pirates. They use disposable transport.

Why re-invent the wheel? Mega-cartels hide in plain sight at luxurious palaces in South America, Asia, and Africa all the time. As stated your villain has very deep pockets, your air transportation can be done entirely with the following resources:

  • Logging land and sawmill
  • Scrapyard and foundry (possibly buy the scrap or salvage cars/farm equipment)
  • Farmland with large animals
  • Local nomadic tribes
  • Whiskey or vodka still (Lumberjacks, farmers, and natives with alcohol? It's possible)
  • Lakes
  • Night vision Hunting scopes
  • Cheap magnetic compasses

And nothing else.

As one who has spent many years interdicting pirates and smugglers, I will share how real super-villains get away from us, and it involves three tiers.

  1. The transport vehicles are cheap, one-time use disposable vessels. These vessels have none of the "required" navigation or regulated equipment. No radios of ANY kind (they can not be detected by direction finders). Your crew won't even be allowed to have cell phones on the aircraft. They have no safety equipment, no identification markings, no certifications or even traceable parts. You build them completely from local raw materials.

As a real-world experience, a 25-foot fiberglass boat full of cocaine left Colombia and was making a delivery to Puerto Rico (which would be inside US territory). The vessel had no markings at all, had no equipment (not even a GPS), no lights or radios. It began life as a mold and fiberglass in the deep jungle, where it was constructed quickly in a camouflaged tent. A Volvo Penta engine was brought in, and installed, with a hand-made fuel tank that only had to survive one day. A basic steering system was attached to the outboard, and the whole craft was filled up to the gunnels with product (drugs). The boats was too fast and low to be seen on RADAR. Its mission was to simply aim straight for Puerto Rico under cover of night, with nothing but a glow-in-the-dark compass and go full speed until they got there, never turning for anything. We only caught it because we knew there was a launch scheduled through a mole in the cartel.

  1. The transport and "flight plan" have zero record and are completely destroyed at the destination. For ship-borne transport this is easy, they just sink the vessel. For an airplane, remember we fought World War I in wooden planes. They burn to ash very easily. Your only challenge is filtering out smoke, but hey you have unlimited money, so build an underground "burn chamber" that cleans up the smoke. Your disposable planes will cost a tiny fraction of the price of a certified commercially built reusable aircraft, possibly less than a thousand dollars in material (wood and canvas, and a simple home-made engine) and your henchmen provide free labor (what respectable villain gets loyalty with money)?? While you might save a trivial amount of money sending the engines back for another run, that loss is a very small price to pay for guaranteed secrecy. A 400 or 500HP engine is very easy to manufacture if you only want it to run for one day and have zero regulations. You will likely run them on locally distilled alcohol (top fuel) rather than commercial gasoline or kerosene, which might draw attention if you have a large fuel bill, using a leather fuel tank (a big wine-skin. Cost: 2 cows). The raw iron can be reused at the base for some world-domination secret weapon. Even the crew has no idea where they are going or where they are when they leave or arrive, because they are taken to the plane blind-folded, have no watches, phones, or electronics of any kind. They are strip-searched on arrival and given only a compass (which is deliberately aligned wrong), a barometer (with a fake altitude gauge printed on it), instructions to point along one exact heading, and the order to "drop into a lake when the egg-timer on the dash goes 'Ding!'" In no way could they reveal the lair even if they were tortured. Your deliveries only happen under cover of a moonless night and do not have any schedule (this is the way most piracy is intercepted; the villain has OCD and has to "coordinate" the deliveries. This sort of information is very easy for a mole to leak because many people have to know it, so it's difficult to find the mole).

  2. Your departure and destination are completely natural. No airstrips. No lights, control towers, or man-made structures of any kind. They are holes in the ground filled with water (lakes) because your planes literally have no ability to take off or land from the ground. No wheels, tires, bearings, or shocks. No landing gear. No steering cables or pinions or axles. They are flying wooden boats, like the US Navy NC-4.

US Navy NC-4 Flying Boat

Improving your odds

  • The villain needs to own a lot of land around the lakes and post them as private property, and patrol them. The government will help with this if you have the legal deed to the land.
  • A noise muffler system would reduce your chance of detection. Again this is disposable material lining a muffler box. A fabric is best, like asbestos, but asbestos if highly regulated today and could be traced when you buy too much of it. So unless you own an asbestos mine, maybe some sort of steel wool can be used. The goal is to make your planes quiet, at least while they are near the launch and land locations.
  • Manufacturing a flying boat requires extremely simple tools, so the launch site can be simply a very rural logging, mining, and cattle farming region. Substitute yaks, moose, elk, or horses as suits your fancy; you need lots of leather. A sawmill provides the wood, a foundry and machine shop provide the engines. Raw metal can come from a junk yard if you don't have a mine. The whole flying boat factory can be built for less than $20k and your "honest labor" in that region will be dirt cheap. Plane parts are made at the sawmill and foundry by people who don't know they are building planes. A trusted crew assembles the planes in a large guarded "lumber warehouse."
  • There is a slight risk that the flight crew could use the stars to estimate their heading even if they don't know the time. There is no reason they need to see outside, all they need to know is if they are at the correct altitude (from the custom barometer that doesn't even tell them numbers) and their fake heading (which also only shows the direction to point the plane, it has no numbers), so close the canopy for the first few hours or so, then just eject it some time prior to landing.
  • The landings will need some coordination from the crew unless you can just carefully shoot the plane down and force it to land. The crew will know enough to aim for the lake when the engines die. The simplest low-tech solution here is to give the crew an infrared sniper scope and float an infrared directional beacon on a cheap raft in the lake. When the egg timer dings, the crew looks to the ground with their scopes, and aims the plane to hit the beacon. They will hit the lake and land, using the barometer to tell them their rate of descent. This does take some training to do right, but even if they crash, your cargo is packaged to float. It's just a little messier to clean up a broken flying boat.
  • If you must have some sort of flight correction capability, this needs to be provided from the ground. Something is tracking the plane (by engine sound, likely) and can send a very simple correction code at checkpoints. The plane needs a tuned receiver for this (they can not respond however). Several pulses from a disposable spark gap transmitter send a Baudot code, that might mean "Left 2" or "Right 1", then the pilot corrects the heading by that number.

Burn everything, and melt down the engines and other metal bits for use in your evil plans. Force the crew to blindfold themselves before leaving the craft (they never actually see the aircraft at any point, and can’t describe anything but the engine noise and the simple cockpit gauges). Transport them to some random village or town on a trip that takes several days by foot and boat with local nomads, and deliver their reward (free their captive family, or pay them whatever was used to coerce them).

This method evades satellite imagery, evades supply chain tracking, evades radio and visual detection, protects against moles and informants, requires only a handful of trusted henchmen who fabricate the planes and equipment, and has a very low cost overhead. Plus, this is the way real pirates avoid detection.

Also note, you wanted “short-range” transport, but the NC-4 was designed to cross the Atlantic Ocean with 5 tons of cargo. That will build your lair very quickly.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is amazing. The most wicked Dr. Evil-style base could start construction with wood and leather planes so low-tech that the Wright Brothers could them. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Jul 18, 2022 at 17:48
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FRAME CHALLENGE

People look at those maps and think there's nothing there, and clearly it must be fairly easy to do something unobserved, right?

Sure. If you have a handful of people with nothing bigger that a Honda ATV and a small boat with an outboard, maybe. Because "uninhabited" isn't the same as "unobserved".

This for example, shows the areas that the government of Québec has performed airbone geophysics programs (note, just the provincial government, not the exploration industry or federal government):

enter image description here

Here is the area of Quebec where there has been some kind of mineral exploration, meaning someone has flown it, drove it, or walked it over the years and filed a report with the government:

enter image description here

And this is just the geologists. When you include the other scientific researchers (biologists, botanists, climate scientists, wildlife biologists, etc and so on), a lot more of that land is covered.

Now let's move on to the people who actually live there.

enter image description here

I apologize for the resolution, as I couldn't find a higher one, so you can't make out the traditional place names, but that detail isn't important. What's important is that said area has traditional place names. People have gone there or still go there sufficiently often that places have names. It gets cut off because the project was only for a specific area, but local names are also found further south. These are Inuit; go south and you get Cree equivalents.

All this to say that looking on a map and seeing there aren't communities there or roads doesn't mean one could simply secretly arrange to do something there secure in the knowledge it would not be found.

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  • $\begingroup$ Very good information, duly upvoted. I can still deal with the first two kinds of visitors; they would not be a persistent problem, only an occasional one (the villain can apply bribes or force whenever someone tries to do another mineral survey, which I assume would be a less than yearly occurrence). The more pressing concern is the local place names... how often do the Inuit physically travel that far inland. I would love to see the source for that image :) $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Jul 19, 2022 at 7:10
  • $\begingroup$ (1/2) @KeizerHarm, no, it's not that easy. Trust me, I've worked in the mineral industry and the environmental assessment field in northern Canada. You can not simply bribe someone to look the other way, because there would be too many people involved: not merely the field inspectors and their bosses, but the pilots and their bosses, the contractors wondering who is running the operation so they can look for business, the local people demanding to know who issued the licences... $\endgroup$ Jul 19, 2022 at 14:59
  • $\begingroup$ (2/2) It would, in fact be easier to build a secret base south in a heavily populated area; after all, no one really looks twice at heavy construction going on to build some random warehouse, or trucks coming and going with heavy equipment, do they? In the north, that sort of thing stands out like beacon, and everyone demands to know what exactly is going on and who is doing it. $\endgroup$ Jul 19, 2022 at 15:02
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As with most of the other answers, I feel that it would be nearly impossible to carry out such a large project while keeping the location an absolute secret. Especially the part with the cargo planes. If a plane that big is not on its properly-filed flight path, someone in air traffic control or in the military is going to spot it on radar. It doesn't matter whether it's flying "without its transponder on" or not. The same is probably true of your smaller planes, though I'm hardly an expert.

That being said, I do have a few thoughts.

Misdirection: decoy base

Start with a "public" project. The cover story can be whatever you want it to be. Perhaps drilling for oil, as in the other answer. Or perhaps an extremely rich doomsday prepper is building a bunker for when civilization crumbles. The point is that all the proper permits have been filed, and no one is going to sound the alarm when it turns into the busiest airport for hundreds of miles around.

A portion of the resources can then be transported in a "quiet" way, over land or water, from the "public" site to wherever you're building your real base. Sled dogs, maybe? Don't know if they can pull a nuclear reactor...

You'd need to be unfathomably wealthy to build even one of these bases in the first place, so why not two?

Keeping the right people quiet

Ben Franklin wrote: "Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead." But you are way, way past that point. It takes a team of hundreds of people to pull something like this off. You are already in the business of policing your subordinates and preventing leaks, whether you want to be or not. The good news is this: whatever tricks you're pulling to keep those henchmen loyal and quiet can just as easily be applied to people outside the "organization".

For instance: you say that you want to keep out of the eyes of the government? Maybe someone in the government does know where your base is and where all the planes are landing, but they've been paid/threatened/brainwashed to keep that location secret from the rest of the government. In other words, a mole. It's worth the investment.

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  • $\begingroup$ Regarding plane detection, I'm thinking that each plane involved could come with a drone that travels at the same speed, carrying the transponder and all communication stuff. At some point the drone is released to continue along the scheduled path, and the real plane goes to the base. It will still show up on radar as an UFO, but as we can see from MH370 it's not that hard to slip by military radar if nobody is looking at you. This will just require the planes to have actual top speeds exceeding expectations. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Aug 23, 2021 at 21:27
  • $\begingroup$ @KeizerHarm I disagree that the map shows that "it's not that hard to slip by military radar if nobody is looking at you". Reading the article, most of what we know about the plane's path after it turned its transponder off comes from military radar. It's just that nobody scrambled their fighters to shoot the plane out of the sky. As for your drone plan, I think that a UFO that started as an ordinary cargo plane before its transponder separated from it in mid-air would attract more attention from the military, not less. $\endgroup$
    – MJ713
    Aug 24, 2021 at 14:36
  • $\begingroup$ My point is that it is easy to get out of range of military radar. Look at how close to shore and populated places the plane was when all contact was lost. Nobody scrambled fighters because nobody suspects anything. So if the plane turns off their transponder out of range of military radar, then there will be no UFO either. And with a drone carrying the transponder nobody would notice that the plane ever left its scheduled flight path. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Aug 24, 2021 at 14:40
  • $\begingroup$ @KeizerHarm What is "out of range" in this scenario? Do you think that Canadian military radar (or American military radar, for that matter) just...doesn't monitor large swathes of Canadian soil? Or do you think they won't notice that unauthorized transponder-less blips on their radar are returning to the same spot in Quebec over and over again? $\endgroup$
    – MJ713
    Aug 24, 2021 at 14:49
  • $\begingroup$ I mean, apparently the Indonesian military radar doesn't! But I'm willing to handwave a stealth cargo plane for this part of the construction, because it isn't really the part that I am asking about - I am about the short range transport planes that are needed when there's not yet a landing strip for the long range cargo plane. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Aug 24, 2021 at 14:56
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Build a large pipeline through the area

I think maybe the best option is to abandon air and to use other infrastructure. A gas or oil pipeline is a good excuse for massive works across a large area, and if you own the pipe it's easy enough to build extra capacity in for redundancy - you'll be the only one that knows that half the pipe is transporting your equipment and materials. Then if the gas field/oil field runs dry unexpectedly or isn't producing enough, you can decommission the line (at huge expense) once the lair has finished construction.

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  • $\begingroup$ pipeline however is inspected, and building one requires buying a lot of land. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 24, 2021 at 5:34
  • $\begingroup$ true, but if you are a billionaire then you've got the resources to buy the land and who's to say that the pipeline remains the same after being inspected? $\endgroup$ Aug 24, 2021 at 19:37
  • $\begingroup$ I think you misunderstand pipeline is inspected continuously. several times a year. A pipeline ensures a continuous stream of inspectors. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 24, 2021 at 19:49
  • $\begingroup$ Fair enough, I obviously don't know enough about that industry. Are they inspected continuously during construction as well? Is it a government agency or a third party company? $\endgroup$ Aug 24, 2021 at 19:55
  • $\begingroup$ yes to the first question, on the latter I am not actually sure in Canada. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 24, 2021 at 21:02
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Use an existing base

Look, governments built top secret missile launch sites all over the place in the cold war. Lots of them ended up abandoned, still officially military installations, but not used . Your villain, by bribery, blackmail etc, has had the deeds transferred to him for one of these, then the records destroyed. Everyone who remembers this he has either waited for their retirement, or had them killed or removed. For an old military install, there's not going to be all that many people who know or care, once it's been decommissioned

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