Unknown hatch on captured U.S. stealth drone raises questions

The amout of contribution I receive each time I publish a blog post on the stealth drone now part of Iran’s asset is amazing. For instance, yesterday, few minutes after publishing the Infographic that I used to explain how the drone was captured (a theory based on the known facts to date), I got an email from Dave Krakow with an interesting drawing he sent me to show how the mysterious hatch on the top of the RQ-170 Sentinel, it’s not up to the typical American Aerospace standards. “The details are imprecise, nothing like Lockheed Martin products.”

Image courtesy: Dave Krakow

Dave believes the thing shown by Iranians was possibly constructed previously, for radar signature research, with details added in a hurry for cameras. “A lot of the commentary on the web regarding general accuracy assumes Iranian intelligence has only the same photos we have on the internet, and thus they could only know certain details if they had an original.  I don’t think this is a reasonable assumption” he wrote to me.

For sure, as highlighted in the above image, the mysterious “top hatch” (that I supposed could be used to deploy a recovery chute) features some oddities. Some of them in particular, raise questions. However the angle of the camera, the effect of the zoom, and many other contributing factors (lights, shadows, image compression etc) may have affected the quality of the footage shown on Iran State TV rendering, for example, fasteners seemingly randomly spaced.

Furthermore, there’s still a chance that Iranians worked on the Sentinel after they recovered it: maybe they tried to get access to the internal hardware, removed panels to inspect lenses, memories to look for interesting data or to disable any self-destruction mechanisms or Emergency Locator-like systems, in order to prevent the Americans from locating or destroying it.

Nevertheless, we can’t rule out the possibility that the one showcased in what looked like a school in Kashmar was actually obtained by melting pieces belonging to various wrecked Sentinels that Iran has downed in the past, even if this would imply that the U.S. have already lost two or more “Beast of Kandahar” robots in Iran! By the way, Iran has recently announced it will show the remains of three U.S. and four Israeli drones downed in the last years while spying on Iran’s nuclear program.

Someone argued that a deployed recovery chute would have confirmation only if hatch doors were opened but I’ve already given a possible explaination for the fact that they were closed.

Someone suggested the drone is too clean for a crash landing, however, if a recovery chute made its crash landing soft, I would expect a damaged belly, as the hidden bottom of the drone seems to confirm.

Stay tuned.

This, along with all the previous articles on the Sentinel drone in Iran, can be found at the following link (click and scroll down): https://theaviationist.com/category/captured-stealth-drone/
About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. Has anyone tried to calculate what wavelength fits the grating? It is highy unlikely that one would use a grating with a spacing compatible with radar wavelength, with such high degree of repetition in a stealth plane. This is suicide. My calculations show that the grating will be resonant at multiples of about 5 GHz. Depending on the material, this would mean that it will show up on a phase array radar as if it would have a flashlight. No so stealthy.

    As for the remarks of Dave, one can see the same flaws on the nose cone, with the light revealing many assymmetric details on the surface and the surface finish. Signs of grinding tools are abound, along with scrathes, probably by sanding paper. Also the cutting edge of the wing is incompatible with something that would be able to fly. If one compares this to images of the true thing, one will see that the lower edge of the front of the wing is much sharper than the thing on exhibit. In general, it looks sloppy. I bet I can do a better job with polystyrene, polyester or whatever. And the size does not match!

  2. I think by know shouldn’t Iran be parading that thing or at least showing more footage, maybe let an Iranian journalist film it? They showed a very short movie and that’s it. Also, why haven’t we seen some of the guts, all the little gizmos?

    I don’t buy the parachute theory since if it did deploy and hatch had some sort of explosive bolts, they should be some damage to top of the fuselage and how did they retrieve the hatch and reinstall it so clean and smooth???

  3. Parachutes now? Come on.

    The seams? Have you ever worked around military hardware? Then take it to the next level considering relatively simple stealth drones that are not meant to be lost? The seams and tape jobs are not michaelangelos sir.
    Go to this dudes site, heard him on am talk, he has a post about the color and that saw, drawn on mark etc. aviationintel.com

    Love your site mate, but a but cursory in assumptions.

  4. Those lines along the access hatches look like tape to me. That would explain the not very straight lines and the “wheel grinder cut mark” which isn’t one.

    We do know that on the B-2 as well as on the F-22 radar absorbing tape is used to mask any gap at the seem of access hatches.

    “In the original B-2 design, specially formulated tapes and caulks were used to cover gaps on the surface such as those near maintenance access panels. These materials have to be removed each time maintenance is performed, then reapplied and allowed to cure before the aircraft can be returned to service.”

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