Iran releases decoded footage from captured U.S stealthy RQ-170 drone

Iran has just released footage that proves it has, if not literally decoded, at least accessed some of the data stored inside the U.S. stealthy RQ-170 drone captured in December 2011.

The video, that was aired by an Iranian TV, as part of an interview in which Sardar Hajizadeh, the Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Forces, tells how the drone was captured and how its technology was successfully accessed and decoded, is the first evidence Iran has found something interesting in the unmanned aircraft’s intelligence gathering sensors and internal hard disks.

So far, Iran claims were never backed by evidences: some blurry details about its activity in California and Afghanistan and some unrelevant information; data that could be retrieved with a little of OSINT (Open Source INTelligence) and some spying.

Now, the new video clearly shows footage recorded by the drone underbelly camera: the area surrounding Kandahar airfield (KAF) as the RQ-170 is about to land, a small building (possibly being spied), a C-130 and at least one Reaper drone among shelters at KAF.

Nothing really special, still something that clearly shows Iranians did find something inside the Sentinel and were able to extract and decode it.

Hence, the drone’s internal memories still contained some useful information and were not fully automatically erased as a consequence of the loss of control procedure. To such an extent data, including video recordings from the drone’s FLIR turret, was recovered.

Noteworthy, some still images (that you can find in the longer video here below) show the drone immediately after being recovered in the desert and, later, moved with a helicopter sling load.

How the “Beast of Kandahar” crash landed in Iran remains a mystery: Tehran claims it was hacked, but the stealth drone, undetected by any radar, might have crash landed for a failure somewhere in eastern Iran where it was found (possibly by accident). And where the U.S. could not blow it up.


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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. A couple of noteworthy things about the content of this video:

    1. Hajizadeh shows a map about the last flight of RQ-170 and mentions even the city (Bardaskan) above which the drone “was taken out of their control”.

    2. It also mentions how the Supreme Leader has been personally involved about the presence of drones in Iranian airspace and the advancement of the technology since the US military’s presence in the region.

    Also I think the timing of this release has a lot to do with the upcoming anniversary of the Islamic Republic on Monday. Of interest also is the following Press TV’s news about mass producing drones by Iran.

  2. If you see the American Technology, it is far ahead of its competitors, The only way the Military-Industrial Complex can sustain itself is by allowing the technology to fall into the hand of its competitors. Any country would include a mechanism to self-destruct its advanced drones, if they didn’t return within a specified time limit or detect any incongruity. It is inconceivable that American Scientists are that stupid. They are deliberately handing over the drones to Iran.

    • “If you see the American Technology, it is far ahead of its competitors,”
      Because you know all the technology of the foreigner competitors, don’t you?
      They ask you beforer starting someting new or build another plane, it’s real????

  3. I highly disagree with Tehran’s account of how they acquired the Beast. IMHO, we purposely let them take control of the aircraft and bring it down using the GPS spoof. Tainted gear on board for sure. We knew Russia, China and NK would be foaming at the mouth to get engineering data for their stealth programs.. Makes perfect sense if you add in the Snowden factor.. We probably already have the radar cross section data for their stealth drone programs and this was a way for us to keep closer tabs on the development of their stealth tech.

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