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. So this thing crashed and people expect it to be in perfect condition or otherwise “is not up to Lockheed Martin standards”… please…

  2. Hi David.
    I haven’t been able to find the mentioned explanation of the “condition” of the hatch in the photos in relation to the “chute theory”.

    Just to clarify: my scepticism expressed below your previous post was about the design of the hatch if it is to be a hinged hatch (as opposed to a hatch that is separated from the drone and replaced). And also that I would expect to see more signs of it having been opened.

    One could of course imagine the Iranian army replacing the hatch to cover up the chute being the reason for the drone being relatively intact. The submitted observations of this post could add to that idea.

    An extra comment:
    According to wiki the Nishant is a 380 kg UAV that is using the chute as its only way of “landing”. This makes (normal) landing gear unnecessary as well as runway. On the RQ-170 which is guessed to be at least 10 times as heavy the chute would be added weight and volume. And this to prevent the drone from crashing hard in what will most likely be hostile territory.

  3. Is that image from Hi Res picture or grabbed from a video? If it was grabbed from a video, the wavering and other artifacts could be produced by Discrete Cosine Transform of the image compression algorithm.

  4. Hey!

    I would urge you all to adopt to the mindframe of the Iranians, triumphically showing their ultimate reap of war?

    And then you come up with this mediocre, high school project?

    This is shameful!

    In other words: the Iranianians may have captured the remains of an RQ170, what they are showing is a high school grade mock up, made of polystyrene with two monkeys.
    Damn the monkeys.

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