The Diplomat: Iran’s Drone Fake?

09.12.11

Categorie: Air, David Axe, Robots, The Diplomat |
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RQ-170. Via David Cenciotti.

RQ-170. Via David Cenciotti.

by DAVID AXE

Yesterday, videos and pictures appeared online purporting to depict the U.S. Air Force RQ-170 Sentinel Unmanned Aerial Vehicle that crashed in eastern Iraq last week while spying on suspected Iranian nuclear facilities for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

The photos seemed to corroborate Iran state media’s claims that the RQ-170, an unarmed stealth aircraft with the same basic shape as the U.S. Air Force’s B-2 bomber, crash-landed “with little damage” after an “electronic-warfare” unit jammed the drone’s control signal.

The aircraft in the photos, and to a lesser extent the grainy videos, is intact but shows some signs of scuffing on its belly as well as possible crude repairs to its right wing — potentially an indication that the wing snapped off when the drone struck the ground.

Read the rest at The Diplomat.

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3 Responses to “The Diplomat: Iran’s Drone Fake?”

  1. mike says:

    seems odd that there are no outer markings of any kind, no “no step”, something marking where the fuel goes etc.

  2. x_logo says:

    The drone is a fake — compare with Google Images..

    1) Look to Google for images of the real drone parked on the runway. The wings on the real drone slant sightly upward starting near the fuselage (dihedral) all the way out to the tips. The upward curve extends at the tip to about half way up the fuselage. Not so on the fake where the wings are flat .

    2) Look at where the wings meet the fuselage. On the right wing (left in the video) the fake does not have a smooth transition. The real drone has no noticeable discontinuity – the transition is smooth. The wing does not line up with the fuselage.

    3) The real does not have what appears to be tape over the seam between the wings and fuselage. The edges of the tape have gaps. Obviously the real drone does not have tape over the seams. Why on the one with the video? Most likely to conceal that the drone is real in three separate pieces, not “intact.”

    4) For a few seconds the left wing tip is visible in the video. Notice that the wing surfaces overlap the ends. The real drone has a smooth finished wingtip cap.

    5) Look at the two humps on the fuselage. These have extreme compound curves which would be difficult to fabricate in sheetmetal. More likely they would be molded from composite materials as separate pieces probably removable for access.
    I would expect a tiny seam between the humps and the fuselage as Google images suggest . Not so on the fake.

    6) Putting a grille over the intake is unusual. Might be to reduce radar reflections but on the top side that would not be a priority. No such grille is visible and others who have actually seen the plane say there is no grille.

    7) One of the Iranian officers pulls open an access door on the top of the left wing, or maybe it’s a speed brake? In either case it is hinged from the back side. Very strange — panels are usually hinged from the leading edge. If it is a speed brake it would be connected to something not flapping in the wind.

    8) On real U.S. drones there are usually printed markings and/or English characters on the topside. Not so on the fake.

    9) The real drone has a much sharper point to the nose.

    10) The fake drone is displayed in what looks to be a school gym. Are we sure the drone can clear the gym’s doors with the wings attached? To go through doors it would have to go sideways on a dolly. A little tricky if the landing gear is damaged or missing. If missing then how was it lifted up on to stands — a crane, fork lift? On a gym floor? Crazy. One would expect it to be in an aircraft hanger.

    So here is how the fake was likely done:

    From Google Images a wire frame drawing was made approximating the shape of the drone. The wire frame dimensions were transferred to sheets of plywood nailed to a shaped stringer base (the bottom of the drone) forming surface references in three separate pieces — two wing sections and the fuselage. Then foam was applied in place in the plywood pockets and sanded to fill in the curves. Once the curves were smooth a layer of fiberglass applied, then sanded smooth, cutouts made for the access panels and ailerons and the connections made between the fuselage and wings. Then each assembly spray painted and the hardware added. The only tricky part is the intake grille which is why it takes up so much time in the video.

    The three sections would be light enough to be easily loaded on a flatbed truck and would clear double wide gym doors. Each piece could be handled by just a few people. Assembly would require three stands to position the fake so the wings could be bolted together and tape applied to hide the seam. Of course drapes would have to be applied to hide the stands holding everything up. Looks like a Hollywood “B” movie studio fiberglass project to me. The reason it is displayed in the gym is it is likely a university project in CAD, mechanical design, and fabrication, waiting for the day when a real drone was downed.

    Finally, how did the drone land? It does not appear to be “shot down. ” It is highly unlikely that the regular flight control codes can be overridden and my guess is that a controlled home base landing is GPS based and set up way in advance with single stroke simplicity. To set up a new landing spot would be a significant navigation coding task beyond simply imitating control functions.

    If the landing gear was damaged or collapsed there would likely be much more damage to the rest of the plane – often a plane will cartwheel when one wing hits the ground, especially on a remote non-paved landing surface. If the landing wheel was intact why not show it on the video? Answer” there is no landing gear — its too hard to fake.

  3. Jonny Jumpup says:

    So, going with this theory, is it right to presume the following things:

    1. Iran wanted/needed propaganda against the United States and therefore created a fake drone.

    2. America went along with their story, choosing to allow the average Iranian, as well as most people in the world, to believe that the US had lost the secret drone.

    3. America would have to “admit” (whether true or not) to a secret spy mission over Iranian nuclear sites.

    OR:

    1. AMERICA actually created the drone and flew it into Iran to “lose contact” with the base and to land unharmed to fool the Iranians into thinking they got the “real deal”?

    I guess both either one of those theories has some merit but when it comes to Spy vs. Spy vs. Spy reverse-reverse-reverse-reverse psychology, who knows?

    If you gave me a few minutes, I could come up on a theory that would have Russia or China planting a fake drone. :) That IS the entertainment of conspiracy theories!

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