Captured U.S. stealth drone: let's analyze the latest pictures. Real robot with few foam parts? Last hope: a trojan horse

Dec 09 2011 - 19 Comments

As some U-2 spyplanes are landing in RAF Fairford on their way to some Middle East forward operating base (to undertake some reconnaissance missions over Iran, replacing the RQ-170 drone?), let’s have a closer look at the high-resolution pictures I published yesterday.

First of all, let me tell you that I believe the one showed by the Iranian Republican Guards is not a fake. Even if, as I will explain, there are still some details quite difficult to explain, the main reasons why I believe that is the actual drone “lost” during a reconnaissance mission are:

First it’s extremely accurate. Considering the small amount of details previously known, I don’t think Iran could be able to create a mock up in such a short time. The news of the downed drone came from Iran and it was later confirmed by U.S. sources (even if details differ). If news had spread in the opposite direction probability of an off-the-shelf 1:1 model made available for cameras would have been higher

Second if it were a fake or reproduction, why would Iran give it this desert/beige scheme when previous pics showed a (dark) grey scheme?

Now, what do pictures tell us about the downed drone?

I’m not an intelligence officer nor a professional photo analyst but with the help of the several thousand visitors of this website (and in particular “CalebS”) that commented the previous posts or sent me emails, I think I’m able to identify some noteworthy details, deliberately ignoring considerations about the actual drone shape.

1) the robot is stored in a sort of gym. For sure it is not a hangar or aircraft recovery shelter. Floors are polished wood with a painted circle that seems to be in the center of the room. If that is true is raises some interesting questions such as the (visible) doors are not big enough to get the plane in. Especially when you consider the size of the room and the size of the
main door in the photo. Furthermore:
a. The windows in the top of photo 3-2 have steel wire protecting them
b. Seats of some sort in the bottom of 3-2
c. Complete lack of security except for the 2 guys and the camera man
d. Several speakers on the wall

2) There are signs of water or clear liquid on the floor which is both extremely interesting and weird.
3) The most interesting thing is there are bits of foam on the floor and camo net that I have highlighted (see point 4 below)
4) Wing damage on the right wing (left side of 3-2) looks like it was seriously damaged/separated from the fuselage yet the damage looks more like the wing was cut off (to get in the building or transport it after recovery?) then a crashand shear. Too clean. Another possibility is that some parts of the drone are . As pointed out by a visitor if you look at photo “3″ and the banner on the starboard side wing: looks like the banner is “pinned” to the wing as if the wing is made of foam.
5) Probably, the bottom of the airframe is carefully hidden because the drone was seriously damaged as a consequence of the crash landing. Why did the Iranians want to cover it? Maybe because the type of damage would be coherent with a belly landing, without an extended undercarriage. This would prove that the drone was not remotely controlled by Iranian operators that have been able to disrupt the satellite link and guide it to a “safe” landing. On the other side, a completely uncontrolled landing would have had more evident effects on the airframe.

Quite likely, as soon as the Iranians found the drone, before any U.S. could find it to secure and blow it up, they may had cut the wings off to transport it as quickly as possible to a safe location, hidden from spy-sats. Maybe they had to remove some any self-destruction mechanism or GPS tracking system. They studied the inside of the drone to find out some details about its cameras, communication suite, storage capability, etc. and then repaired and prepared it to show it to the public.

There’s one last possibility (let’s say an American “hope”): the drone is real but it was deliberately sent and made crash in Iran as a sort of trojan horse, carrying malware or other Stuxnet-like viruses. A bit far fetched but intriguing.

Stay tuned.

This, along with all the previous articles on the Sentinel drone in Iran, can be found with the following link:

05:25PM GMT update

Artist Ugo Crisponi has sent me the following image he created after noticing that almost all artworks and renderings available to date have a minor flaw: the nose of the drone is drawn as convex with the two sections of the fuselage forming a pyramid section. However, as one of the previously available images taken at Kandahar shows, the actual nose is concave.

  • Jeff

    the banner isn’t pinned to the wing , if you zoom in on the wing you can see they taped the banner to the wing.

  • We captureed more drones before, but not a dronefrom this type. I hope americans understand Iran’s Army (both formal army and IRGC) is not blind or something like this. Its eye is foucosed on U.S army around the world specially parst of it located near Iran.

    • Jack Spratt

      I hope the leadership of Iran, and the Iranian people realize that every us Ohio class boomer carries 24 nuclear missiles with MIRV warheads, and that 80% of Iranians live in just 5 cities. Therefore, when you are hellbent on becoming a nuclear power, and making reckless statements about “wiping Israel off the map”, and developing delivery systems that threaten both Europe and the US, you’re 10 minutes from oblivion.

      Why the Iranian government would choose to paint a giant bulls-eye on its ass by becoming a nuclear power/threat is beyond all logic and reason. Far from making Iran more secure, it makes Iran a favorite target for the nuclear forces of India, Pakistan, Turkey, China, Israel, France, England and the United States.

      As Gorbachev realized almost immediately when coming to power, the Eastern European based, short range Russian SS-20s made Russian LESS secure, because the only reasonable response from The West was the Pershing II Missiles which didn’t need to fly over half of the Earth to hit Moscow, but would be there in 5-8 minutes.

      I never realized what little dicks the Mullahs running Iran must have until considering what possible idiotic motivation would drive Iran’s nuclear program. Strategic Arms policy made by Dumb & Dumber. The world would get on just fine without any surviving Persians, and your arms policies are making that increasingly likely.

  • bjoern holst jespersen


    …and it’s not an Iranian mockup. But let’s assume it is.

    Then they are able to produce those shapes, but mess up putting on the wings.

    And sending out their announcement before the news of “a drone lost over western Afghanistan” would imply they had intel of the drone lost. Not impossible, but they would have to control what kind of news that came of the real drone-crash.


    Other comments.

    Foam on the floor: The drone is (to an unknown extent) covered with/shaped by molded foam. [see fare right of broardest front view high res photo].

    Wet floors indicate lots of boots have been gunning around to put up the display, and that they didn’t – for what ever reason – wait for the floor to dry before taking the photos.

    Everything about the show reads “improvised” to a degree that would be difficult to imitate.

  • Uknown

    The sandy color comes by the lights inside the gym if you ask me.

  • b

    Agree with Bjoern – the obviously got the real thing.

    Adding: use of the gym is smart (btw – the big white boxes in the corners are air conditioning). Lots of gyms around, hard to find the one to bomb.

  • Lukas

    Well the gym, I assume they have brought the drone to a school (with children probably still inside) to avoid bombing.

  • Thomas MN

    The wing ‘seam’ that suggests a breakage or some kind of reconstruction work is actually clearly visible on photos of the ‘real’ RQ-170. ref. clearest photos yet in December 2011 issue of Combat Aircraft magazine.

  • nico

    I have looked at 1 film and pictures but not sure I have seen them all. As far as I can tell, we have only been shown one wing and a little bit of the backside, not the rear and the other wing. Obviously they haven’t shown us the landing gear.

    Could that liquid on the floor be fuel from the wreck?

  • surveyork

    Hi, all.

    I read some comments about the craft being fake because it shows an air-intake grid -which is not visible in available photos and footage of the real thing. However, if you look at thumbnails of frontal view photos of the Iranian-seized craft you won’t see the grid either. You can get a similar effect if you keep a hi-res image of the craft on your monitor and step several feet back. So, I think it could be the real thing.

    The piece of the puzzle that puzzles me most ;) is the beige-ish color of the craft. The real things looked gray to me. But the beige coloration could be due to the mission’s requirements or some other good reason.

  • Six

    Take a close look at the small asymmetries – they’re indicative of a hand-crafted piece. Specifically, look at the symmetry along the leading edge of the wing, especially where it comes together at the nose – it’s close, but not Lockheed perfect. You see those asymmetries throughout the display, especially where light meets shadow. There’s a few angles where you can even see the light ‘chattering’ across a surface unevenly, indicating imprecise high and low spots.

    Also, the grill looks extraordinarily suspect. You can see those asymmetries where it meets up with the fuselage, and it even looks slightly canted in relation to the two humps, but also…it just looks non-stealth. From the side, it’s flat, and each vertical and horizontal piece is another flat plane that can reflect radar, rather than slip through it or scatter it.

    I think the point of the banners being attached to the wing is important – a genuine RQ-170 would be priceless to Tehran, including coating samples, and the banners being attached to the wing are an indication of a lack of perceived value. But the banners don’t only appear pinned – they also appear to be affixed with clear packing tape. The blue banner on the starboard wing is the easiest to see the slight reflection of the tape, with two strips on the inner corner, one vertical and the other diagonal.

  • Bill G.

    The “captured” drone is bright green. Why would the Air Force choose that color? This is faked.

  • turkish

    Iran can do nothing. Whole Iran is based on inhumanity and dirty
    Downside form the Wings of the Robot are the most important
    things to identify the Robot.
    Things that Iran can not know, thats why there is no way to look under
    the wings.

    Iran is nothing….

    • mh

      shut up plz

  • Peter

    IMHO too many thing here indicate it’s not a fake. Otherwise the way the fake display of this thing has been made would be extremely strange.

    IMHO an explanation, why they didn’t show the bottom of this thing is because the bottom suffered during the landing.
    As I read, they managed to log the communication with this thing. If they were able to command it, instead of the US, they could have flown it to wherever they wanted. But probably they didn’t log the command for opening the landing gear. So that they had to do a belly landing, which damaged the bottom.

    Just a guess…

  • JC

    OK, I’m only gonna post one time here because this is the last word. The drone in the photos is a fake. Why you ask? Well I didn’t even think about it until someone on here mentioned the grill over the intake.
    This is supposedly a state of the art, stealth aircraft. Well, anyone that knows anything about stealth technology also knows that NO stealth aircraft has ANY right angles. Look closely at the grill over the intake.

    Nice try Iran, better do a little more homework next time though.

  • Heidar

    the recorded video has decoded by Sepah, Iran. if you say it is fake you should see the decoded videos in youtube . viva Iran

  • noob

    coming soon… iriaf rq-170 sen

  • StilesDC

    Looks like a wrestling training center or somewhere w multiple matches simultaneously. It’s not wet floors, but glossy PVC covering the foam floors. Unevenness / wear causes variation in light reflection resembling liquid pooling. Those green spots seem like numerous inner rings common to wrestling mats. The flooring is laid in segments like foam.