We were first to post the story yesterday by almost an hour, thanks to some fantastic international patrons of, and I have yet to find any in-depth analysis of the evidence presented by the Iranian Government of what appears to be an RQ-170 Sentinel displayed in a basketball gym, almost fully intact. The experts have chimed in all over the networks and print media, and I have to say this is even worse superficial analysis than the Stealth Blackhawk tail fiasco back in May (a story we were over a day ahead of anyone else, broken on the Lars Larson National Radio Program). I am not trying to sing my own praises here, I am just trying to underline that you have to be careful who you listen to. Just because they may work for a well-known news outlet it does not mean their commentary is totally informed. One “expert” today even said the drone was a fake because the wings were drooping. Apparently he did not look at the evidence for more than a couple of seconds, as this is fully explained by the pictures that have been distributed. Others have said that the drone is the wrong color. Have they ever been in a gym with sodium lights and wood floors? All whites can look beige, especially to the odd white balance metering in modern SLR and video cameras.

In this piece we are going to look at the photo evidence in-depth, then we are going to talk about the unique appearance and qualities of the RQ-170 and it’s possible origins. Finally, we are going to talk about the circumstances that could have occurred that would have resulted in such an aircraft being left almost totally intact after a supposed crash or loss total of control. This should round out a 360 degree picture of what is going on with the incredible developments on this story in the last 24 hours as well as address the explosion of chatter heard on television, in newspapers and especially on the internet concerning this topic.


RED ARROW: This is very reminiscent of the radar diffuser/mesh grill found on the first generation stealth F-117A Nighthawk. This is a key point as the RQ-170 most likely was designed using rapid prototype efficiencies, commercially available subsystems, and a balance between low observability and risk to national security in mind. This is what I call “expendable stealth.”

BLUE ARROW: Although the airframe is generally intact, the leading edge has been scuffed and even perforated in some areas. This is a tell-tail sign of a hard, but flat landing.

RED ARROW: Why nobody has taken the high-resolution photo files and put them into Photoshop to blow out the details is beyond me. A huge tell in whether or not this thing is real or a fake would be what lies behind the intake radar diffuser. In this case it appears to be exactly what should be there, a jet motor with possibly some type of radar blocker covering the fan face. If this was a hastily designed mockup I seriously doubt the Iranians, who had full control of what images were released, would have formed such a smooth inlet and actually placed a motor inside. This is possibly the largest piece of evidence found during my analysis, and you have not seen it anywhere else but! Sometimes it actually pays to be a professional photographer in these matters because you can utilize basic editing tools to bring out details that are not apparent in the images in the state that they are distributed.









This picture highlights the smooth lines of the specimen, it has well-formed continuous radius edges.

When the same picture is filtered, converted to black and white and cropped down we see some sort of seam filler covering something that seems to be designed into the airframe’s leading edge. The black tape is also a mystery but this contoured covering material is there for a reason. Is there a radar array imbedded behind this, similar to the B-2? Or are these possibly antennas for the aircraft’s ESM suite?








This is the top of the same picture blown up and heavily filtered.

Blue Arrow- The “access panel” and fine details on the spine of the machine do match the fuzzy pictures we have seen of the Sentinel flying out of its home base at Kandahar airfield. These broad lines actually appear to have some dimension to them, very reminiscent of the tape and gap fillers used on the F-117, B-2 and F-22 around access points and radar reflecting edges, although even then they a look a little “drawn on” in this picture. Frankly, from this angle its hard to tell.

Orange Arrow- At first I thought this was truly the tell that would determine that this thing is a bogus specimen. Those screw holes and that access plate looks totally drawn on, in fact it looks like they actually drew one line to long and abruptly stopped once they went past the corner. We have all done that when stenciling as kids right? The screw holes look totally fake, like they were just sharpied on the thing to make it look like a functioning machine. At first glance, this evidence really had me convinced that this was a prop of sorts, built in haste by the Iranians to satisfy a propaganda need at home and the world’s hunger for evidence that they actually did have a Sentinel in their grasp. But then I was able to capture the picture below…

Blue & Red Arrows- Once again, in this picture you can see that stray line that emanates from the bottom left hand side of the access hatch closest to the intake. But on closer evaluation it is apparent that this is most likely a piece of tape sealer that is come up on that edge. Further, an outline of some degrading tape sealer seems to be viewable along the area where the black “screws” are visible. In other words, it looks like these apparent defects are actually just that, defects, and not “drawn on” to the machine to make it look more realistic and representative of the photos available on the net. There may very well be an operational use for indicating where the panel and it’s screws lie underneath a sealant of some type for future maintenance access. So basically this went from a deal breaker for me to an area in question, but in no means a total disqualifier, as the photos available do not show close enough detail to rule one way or another.

Yellow & Green Arrows- This looks very much like the seams and slight variances in color and texture seen in the low quality photos captured out of Kandahar of the RQ-170. Further, these tape sealers or antenna cowlings really run with normal stealth manufacturing still seen today, but its especially prevalent on 20-year-old designs such as the B-2 Spirit. The taping and treating of service panels and radar reflective joints is also the notorious reason as to why operating stealth aircraft is so cost prohibitive. Its simply very time-consuming to constantly have to keep up the stealth coatings, especially in high use areas like access panels. Once again, nothing here is definitive but it’s also not a disqualifier in any means.


Red Arrow- In these two photos (one the original, the other a closeup crop of it) we see what is undoubtedly the largest area of trauma on the RQ-170. It looks as if the wings either broke off, were sawed off, or if this is a fake they were made crudely and separately, so they just put tape and epoxy over the ill-fitting joints. If the wings broke off during a hard landing it may have been do to a weak point in that area where the carbon fiber fuselage was attached to the carbon fiber wings. This would make sense as it would allow for wing flex and transportation. This would also jive with large component, low volume modular construction and rapid prototyping and production techniques (more about this later).

Alternatively, the Iranians very well could have been sawed off the wings in order to transport the aircraft as fast as possible away from the crash site, as the Iranians are knowingly paranoid of being watched at all times via the air (for good reason right?!). Further, they would have known that there would very well be a cruise missile or even an assault force headed their way. In such a case why not just saw the wings off and get it out of crash area? Further, it apparently had to fit in a school gym, and not many gyms I know of have massive hangar doors to move crashed drones in and out of. You may have asked yourself why in the hell is it in a gym, looking very much like a really smart high schooler’s experiment at the championship science fair? Simple, because the Iranians knew this was a BIG deal for the US and that the Americans would want to destroy their secret drone before letting it fall into Iranian hands, and we now know that such a strike and/or raid was being highly considered in Washington at this time. So why not store it in an urban environment, in a place full of children, and most certainly surrounded by innocent civilians? Human shields are simply the largest deterrent in a case like this so a very simple solution ended up probably being the best strategic one for the Iranians, although the “optics” do at first appear very strange.

Finally, there is the possibility that the wings were fabricated separate from the fuselage by the Iranians and they just didn’t fit right when they tried to put it all together, so they just taped and glued it together. I find this highly doubtful as the quality overall is just fantastic, why would the fake wing joints be made so terribly when the rest of the airframe is top notch? No matter what, both wings are broken is similar places on both sides of the fuselage, so something uniform, whether it was a structural failure on landing, cutting for transportation, or super shoddy craftmanship by an iranian “hoax” construction team, the aircraft did break in three distinct and symmetrical parts.

Green Arrow- Further evidence of light stress and impact damage along the leading edge.






This is a screencap from the video that aired on Iranian Television.

Red Arrow-  The seam of the broken wing on the other side of the fuselage.

Green Arrow- The most clear evidence of impact damage on the airframe’s leading edge. It looks like the aircraft actually hit something hard enough to buckle the structural integrity of the leading edge.

Red Arrow- This is the same small dark blister we have seen in all the RQ-170 shots taken over the last few years at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan.

Blue Arrow- Further underside/leading edge damage.

Green Arrow- Incredibly detailed and well matched rear paneling as seen in some of the pictures of the RQ-170 in the past.

Yellow- The “Beak” molding is very accurate when compared to all other pictures of the RQ-170. These are very fluid lines that would seem to be fairly hard to match exactly on this scale off of tiny, low resolution photographs.

Red Arrow- Here is a close-up crop of the same picture. What appears to be some sort of highly detailed exhaust (possibly an environmental control system component like a heat exchanger) or array of some sort has a noticeable “saw tooth” stealth treatment as well as a grill of some sort, possibly similar to the one seen on the RQ-170’s intake. This is the largest such component seen on the aircraft’s upper skin so it might have required a slightly more elaborate low observable treatment in order to bring it inline with the rest of the aircraft’s radar signature. This is a very unique and specific detail to have been simply be “dreamt up” by the Iranians in an attempt at hoax. Further, it looks very much like some of the vents and apertures that we have seen on the F-117, B-2 and even the F-22.


Another screen capture from the Iranian TV video. I love this shot, its the only one from behind the aircraft.

Red Arrow- Fully articulated flaps and ailerons just as they appear in prior photos. This is really heavy detail and unnecessary for a simple “proof of capture” photograph. A high degree of craftmanship and production quality can be seen by the even seams and tight fit of the control surfaces.

Blue- More of that incredibly accurate detail work on the rear of fuselage. Lots of taped off panels and surfaces here just as in prior photos.

This is far and away my favorite picture of the lot. Although it does not offer particularly exciting evidence like the enhanced intake shot, it does show how large and elaborate this machine truly is. I have heard “experts” talk a lot about how this thing is way to small compared to their expectations. But the dimensions given by the Iranians of about 26 meters wide with a length of 4.5 meters and height of 1.84 meters puts it exactly where it should be based on the pictures taken at Kandahar over the years. In some shots it was maybe 40% higher than a runway marker, that is pretty damn short, so this specimen makes perfect sense. In addition, flying wings are very deceiving size wise at first glance. Side-on the B-2 looks about the size of a F-111, head-on it looks like a monster, and from above it looks like a flying pancake, so just because something as unfamiliar as a flying wing looks small from a certain angle, it is in fact not small at all, and offers a tremendous amount of volume for fuel and payload. For me, this picture really puts it over the edge. If the aircraft is indeed a fake, it is a finer prop than Northrup Grumman’s X-47B full sized mockup that is used to sell their UCAV concepts. This is something that the NG folks had finished plans of the real McCoy to model it off of and spent weeks, if not months building. Yet you still can easily tell that the X-47 mockup is just a model. The Sentinel in Iranian hands is far, far more elaborate and convincing. And they built this in what? FOUR DAYS?

Here is where I stand on the evidence:


-The outline that runs a little to long along the top access panel, and the odd over dramatic screw like spots that run along its edge, although another shot lended some explanation to this, something just fills odd about it.

-The fact that we are not able to view the bottom of the aircraft. Then again why would the Iranians want to show damage to the aircraft? It would makes their accomplishment more believable but less impressive. Further, landing gear would be very hard to reproduce or “mockup,” as they are complicated and very distinctive in appearance compared to the rest of the RQ-170’s flowing lines and broad, molded surfaces. Also it would give away the Sentinel’s sensor configuration, as that is where the electo-optical turret and faceted window enclosure is located. Think about it, why give the lemons to China and Russia for free when you can just give them a taste of the lemonade?

-The wings being detached and crudely fashioned to the airframe could be interpreted as a sign that it is a hoax, although I doubt this is due to shoddy workmanship as the rest of the article is top-notch, but its an issue to consider.

-No photos have been provided of the doomed drone right after the crash. Without an idea of how on earth this thing landed or crashed and survived in such great shape will make many think it is just impossible. Pictures of the aircraft at the crash site would explain this mystery to some extent and it would lend serious weight to the Iranian’s claims.

-Some news outlet’s unnamed government sources are saying that the DoD pulled the crash site up on satellite once the location of the Sentinel’s demise was found and saw a large debris field. This would make sense as any uncontrolled crash usually ends up in firey destruction right? Not always. We will discuss more about this later. But if indeed there was a debris field where the DoD thought it had crashed there is nothing to say the Iranians did not create one once they quickly hauled the wreckage away. People do not give the Iranian military enough credit, aside from the politics of situation, the Iranian military is much more resourceful than most would ever believe.

-The photos EXIF data (data embedded into the image when it is shot) says the pictures of the drone were taken with a 5D Mark II using a 28mm lens and common ameture settings on SEPTEMBER 17th 2011. This is strange, but not unheard of. In fact one of my 5D Mark II’s has the wrong date set in it right now! The only explanation for this beyond a simple setting error is that the Iranians were ready for such and occurrence and had an elaborate mockup ready to go. This may be the strongest evidence against the validity of the Iranian’s claim so far and you heard  it right here first @!


-The fact that there appears to be a motor behind that radar diffuser/mesh grill and a well designed intake leading to jet’s fan face or radar blocker is a detail that did not have to be included for a hoax. This is a pretty hardcore detail that the Iranian’s did not have to provide for simple photographic proof regarding the issue.

-The intake radar diffuser/mesh grill is an interesting add-on to the story and does make a lot of sense with that design. Its dated technology, something that goes along with the “expendable stealth” mindset, and would help reduce any radar returns within the engine inlet. Further, in many pictures taken prior to the incident the inlet appears almost solid in nature. Given strange anomalies with lower end cameras and camera phones, under tough lighting condition this would explain this appearance and it would also explain why the inlet appears black under darker light conditions.

-The damage along the leading edge lends itself to a hard landing in a field, possibly one where the gear collapsed. Remember, as a flying wing, when the aircraft lands hard it has a much lower chance of “digging in” and performing somersaults and tearing itself apart. It spreads its weight along all that bottom surface area making it possible that it could land in a field without destroying itself. At least there is damage present and the omission of the undercarriage would help explain this.

-All the fine details are there, right where they should be based on the photographs we have seen of the Sentinel. Even tight-fitting control surfaces and taped access panels etc. The detail and symmetry of the article presented are simply amazing. Like I said before, Northrop Grumman’s marketing team did not pull off such an accurate and believable replica and they had all the time and money in the world to make it happen.

-The big picture is truly what is most impressive about the aircraft on display, and that is a big deal. The overall size, slope of the edges, the roundness of it’s beak, everything is present and accounted for. With aircraft models, the fine details can all be present, but if one line is off or one piece of geometry out of whack, the whole thing would look like a Ferrari kit car. Well it does not, it looks exact to an undeniable and elaborate degree. Even how the two communications “humps” blend perfectly into the body, something that seems fake and unnatural, but its something that grabbed out attention about the RQ-170 years ago. It simply looks grown not built!

So my final conclusion is this: ITS REAL. Somehow, whether by luck or skill, Iran has possession of an intact RQ-170 Sentinel Drone built by Lockheed Skunk Works within the last decade. I am 75% sure of this at this point, and that is good enough for me to take a position on it, and I am happy to be proven wrong, but I do not think I will be in this case. Yesterday morning, when I was first to post this story thanks to some AWESOME readers from abroad, I was on the other side of this equation. I said at first glance, before I could really go through the evidence, there was a 35% chance of it being legitimate, and a 65% chance that it is a hoax. Now, after hours of close examination, a little Photoshop investigative work, and a lot of deductive reasoning, the tables have totally turned back around and then some, and I am confident that what you see in the photos and in the Iranian TV video is truly what you get.


A lot of people have commented about how the RQ-170 looks like it was a plastic mold, or made out of paper mache’ even. One “expert” even called the display a “parade float.” Sadly, many of these people underestimate the creativity of the folks over at Lockheed Skunk Works.

Not every aircraft or UAV will look like every other one that came before it. The largest leaps in production and design techniques can be made on some of the smallest projects. An area where there has been a tremendous amount of research and development is on rapid prototyping and production techniques. Basically the goal of this concept is to use cutting edge design and fabrication methods to lower the time and cost of small lots of technology demonstrators and even operational aircraft. I have little doubt in my mind that this may be the RQ-170’s claim to fame as one of the first operational aircraft that was tested and produced in very small numbers utilizing this cutting edge concept.

So what does that mean for the RQ-170 and how it was designed? What it means is that the RQ-170 looks so smooth and different not just by design necessity but because it was produced using new processes that allow it to be produced cheaper and faster. For instance, instead of making a ton of separate pieces that have to be cobbled together to make a stealthy airframe, then all those joints and rivets have to be hidden etc, why not just design and built the aircraft out of few key pieces, each made up of a single chunk of carbon fiber? For instance, produce a carbon fiber fuselage, two carbon fiber wings, and carbon fiber control surfaces instead of welding and pairing lots of little pieces together that make up a wing, or a fuselage. You would end up with an incredibly strong and lightweight yet simpler and more cost-effective airframe. Further, you are able to do great things with carbon fiber that you could not do with a combination of materials. For instance, you can incorporate the communications “domes” right into the structure of the aircraft instead of attaching them via fasteners and joints.

So what rapid prototyping pushes the designer to do is to create a solution to a mission out of absolutely the minimal amount of parts possible. This drastically increases simplicity, while decreasing production times and price. Finally, by creating an aircraft out of a few key structural components that are smooth and free of welds, joints and fasteners, you can create an aircraft that is stealthy by its very design. You can even pond radar eluding material right into its polymer structure so that it does not need the latest radar absorbent paint and surface coatings to survive over hostile territory. And as part of the rapid prototyping and production ethos you can fill that simple airframe up with components that are currently available of the shelf, so you can once again build small runs or products cheaper, quicker and at lower risk to the customer, both in the terms of cost control and national security secrets.

A probable direct descendant of the RQ-170, the Lockheed Skunk Works P-175 “Polecat” UAV technology demonstrator utilized the rapid prototyping process through almost its entire design and production phase. Over 90% of the airframe was made out of composite material and built via pieces from a 3D printer that basically produces anything and everything out of polymers and composites straight from CAD design software. Please read this short piece to give you a better idea of what I am talking about:

So the simple and almost cheapishly abstract appearance of the RQ-170 is just that, it was built to be simple, cheap and available to commanders fast. All the while it is capable of doing amazing, high risk things without putting our cutting edge, high performance, stealth airframe design processes and materials at risk. Which in this author’s opinion makes the Sentinel as remarkable as any super sensitive, high speed stealth spy plane ever could be. One is simply much more humble than the other, but that does not mean it isn’t even more relevant over today’s murky battlefields.


So many are rightfully wondering how this little drone did not end up a smoking hole in the ground? Well folks let me tall you, stranger things have happened in the world of aviation. There is a long list of crazy stories where aircraft ended up landing totally intact yet the pilot was no longer in control. Sometime physics just works against all odds! Please read this story, you will see what I am talking about, its insanely relevant to today’s discussion:

Also, we have NO IDEA what course of events actually doomed this drone. The DoD will probably never come clean with the details describing what happened leading up to the loss of contact with the drone in question. Further, we have no clue what the programmed default instructions were for the UAV to do when it could not reestablish a link with it’s masters. Does it circle? Does it return to base? If it circles what happens when it runs out of gas? Does it have enough artificial intelligence onboard to attempt a rough field landing? What happens if the thing is being electronically jammed, not just it’s communications links but also it’s GPS? What are the drone’s default instructions then? What happens if the GPS is out of whack and the inertial navigation system also begins having issues? Exactly how hard is it to hack into one of these things? Could Iran have broken the encryption language onboard? This is high, HIGHLY unlikely but we don’t know any of this for sure. The questions can go on forever, we simply have no context on protocols like this for a secret stealth drone who hangs out a constantly in unfriendly or normally denied airspace.

Why hasn’t anyone addressed the real possibility that the motor quit?!!? It only has one engine remember? It it did lose its propulsion while deep into a mission and it had burnt off some gas I bet it would be one hell of a glider. Maybe when the engine quits it try’s to hold its attitude until literally it stops moving. In other words maybe it got lucky and did a light pancake landing into a field. Is that really to outside the box for aviation “experts” to comprehend? Maybe they need to take some flying lessons as pilots are always taught to be aware of your options if the motor quits BECAUSE IT DOES HAPPEN. Why is a little stealthy drone running on a single CRJ motor any different? Do you really believe that designers programmed this thing to plow into the ground at high-speed if the engine quit? Obviously they would not want this on a training or test flight, is there a separate program for a real missions? Who knows.

What I am trying to say here is that these things happen. Aviation is a wild business and pretty much nothing is 100% reliable. Humans are imperfect and so are the machines and tools we make. So, definitively saying that the drone put on display by the Iranians is a fake simply because it is intact is so full of assumptions its painful and a disservice to the public who we serve.

I hope you enjoyed this analysis, I think it will move the discussion forward. One thing is for certain, there are some very frustrated UAV operators and Skunk Works employees waking up this morning in America and some very happy Iranian Military officials sitting down for dinner in Tehran as this is being published. This year has been a wild year for America’s clandestine stealth technologies, and we still have a few weeks left till 2012!

Stay tuned for further developments…

To access to all RQ-170 “Sentinel Down” related posts, in order from newest to oldest, please click on the link below!

This entry was posted in Iranian RQ-170 Incident, News, Opinon and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Pingback: RQ-170 Sentinel Drone Downed In Iran Critical Updates! | aviationintel

  2. Pingback: RQ-170 SENTINEL DRONE SHOT DOWN OVER IRAN? | aviationintel

  3. Pingback: IRAN DISPLAYS WHAT COULD BE A RQ-170 SENTINEL DRONE, INTACT (Updates Posted Below!) | aviationintel

  4. Pingback: New Details Emerge About The Doomed RQ-170 Sentinel Drone That Crashed Within Iranian Airspace | aviationintel

  5. ikkeman says:

    great expose. good to see some actual analysis rather than just a standard debunk.
    I cannot help scratching one itch though – your percentages of your pre-analysis feel of the plane don’t add up… to 100% that is.

    some more helpful(?) remarks –
    1) landing intact:
    the Iranians claimed it ran out of fuel. I think on-board flight control software is completely capable of keeping an nu-powered drone gliding. Al it takes is some stall avoidance limits – I’ve programmed such control-laws myself in university.
    that might also explain a rather benign belly landing. It was gliding ever lower, not trying to land. Landing with the gar down is generally more dangerous on unprepared ground (if one gear sticks somewhere, something as short as a flying wing can easily flip head over heals)

    2) the grille:
    one of the strong indicators for it being real IMHO. I haven’t measured but it looks like the vertical line change along the middle is designed to generate roughly square gaps – optimized for a specific bandwidth?
    also the continues vertical lines are symmetrical and look deliberate.
    It would show a massive amount of attention to detail if this was a mock-up.

    3) the ventral spine:
    It looks to me like some of the covering tape from this row of removable bolts is removed – maybe post landing by Iranians.
    on the screen-cap showing the drone from the fwd-top shows what looks to me as a wide tape running aft of the bolt line.

  6. says:

    Ha ha! Thanks so much for the heads up on that, me and my damn math! Yes those are all solid points that I do agree with actually.

  7. Pingback: US Stealth UAV RQ-170 downed in IRAN - Page 57

  8. jivar says:

    About the secion you mentioned of highschool basketball yard. it is not a high school basketball yard , it is a multipurpose sport hall and from hanging banners it belongs to a military base of IR Sepah. i suggest you adjust the part about inncent civilians amd all which it is not accurate.

    Thank you.
    an iranian Reader.

  9. Smith says:

    One thing I have to mention, is Iranian schools are not like North American ones with each one having a basketball court. Actually almost none of them does. Sports facilities in Iranian schools are mediocre at best. Sports venues just exist as part of sports complex or on premises of companies and organizations. I have a feeling this sports complex is inside a military complex eg. IRGC, etc than in a school. If you have photos of their missiles and rockets which are available on net these are also in similar settings when shown indoor. I am sure Iranians do not hold their entire arsenals in schools. But overall it is a very good analysis specially when compared with sewage coming out of popular media nowadays, this looks like a diamond. On the reason crash I give a low probability for the drone to have remained in such a good condition if there was some kind of a fault. Iranian story seems more credible with cyber attack specially taking into account the fact that a super virus had infact infected drone control systems a few months back and had been reported in press. If virus had penetrated the system it probably could force land the plane under certain conditions that the virus creators had programmed for. Anyways, we know too little.

  10. Smith says:

    And yeah, I almost forgot something about why it can not be a school stadium. Since almost tens of thousands of people would instantly recognize which and where this stadium is and before you know it its location would be on the internet. Something Iranian generals would never like to happen, exposing the location of their Christmas “gift”.

    Again a very good analysis.

  11. Smith says:

    The pilotless air craft you had linked to which landed without a pilot is a “conventional” one. Aerodynamically the bat wing air crafts are very unstable and need power and continuous computer input to remain stabilized in flight. That is one reason why their design is so complicated because of the negative static stability. I thought the link is for a bat wing design crash site. Anyways, as I said I give more probability to virus story.

  12. Peter says:

    Nice work and report!

    My comment on the tape strips that look like holding the wings: They might be there by intention. Wings on every aircraft bend and flex under different loads and manouvers. If you have wings that can be removed for easier transport then you need a gap to avoid direct stressfull contact and tension between the sensitive surfaces. Thoses gaps can be closed by flexible tape to highly improve aerodynamics. No one would like to see air flowing from top to bottom of lifting surfaces. Glider pilots use this method since years to seal gaps between wings and fuselage for better performance. Same would apply to a drone where fuel saving must be a high priority for extended endurance and range. Example can be found here or a direct sample image here.


    • says:

      Peter, I agree but the seams in the Iranian video were not even seams they were super crude plaster with holes in them. The wings broke off on landing or were sawed off for transport. But I agree the seams would be treated normally and the wings are removable for MX and transport

      Thanks so much for posting!


  13. Andy says:

    Ugh, so obviously fake. Even the Enquirer does a better job with their Photoshop. Look at the faces of the soldiers. The eyes are wrong and clearly doctored. If they wanted to conceal the identity of whoever these people are, why bother gently blacking out the area and just put a standard black bar across their face? Also, look at the lighting and shadow of each picture. All wrong, screams fake. Bad fake. Doesn’t pass the sniff test… They might have one of our stealth craft, but these aren’t the real pics.

  14. Pingback: Iranian military claims to have shot down an RQ-170

  15. Red says:

    Excellent analysis!

    Quick question though: Isn’t this drone rather yellowish in the photographs? I thought the RQ-170 was a grey aircraft?

    • says:

      Caused by the reflections in the room, sodium lights and auto white balance settings on cameras. Thanks for posting!


  16. Catsoo says:

    A very common practice in flying performance gliders is that the gap between the fuselage and the wing is filled with tape especially after every assembly for flight. This does not happen in motorized aircrafts because of the cared margin of efficiency needed in flying gliders. Glider pilots do anything to prolong their flights.
    In the case of RQ-170, radar signature is of utmost importance and as such the gaps are filled with tape.

    In the photos provided, part of the tape from the leading edge downward is torn, to me that is simply due to crash landing of the aircraft. But what puzzles me is that it is suggested that the wing is cut at the joint for transportation reasons which I do not see any signs of that.

    Transporting this UAV in one piece is not at all as difficult as some think. having the wingspan of 27 meters and 4 meters width could easily be managed by an ordinary flat bed trailer truck having some of the structure to extend out while firmly securing the portion sitting on the trailer.
    Iranians wanted to have this UAV in its best intact form for studies, why would they detach anything if they could help it? (Attention: A typical flat bed trailer length is about 16 meters)

  17. w. plank says:

    Its because they have use a special kind of lamps in there

  18. Jay says:

    “The photos EXIF data (data embedded into the image when it is shot) says the pictures of the drone were taken with a 5D Mark II using a 28mm lens and common ameture settings on SEPTEMBER 17th 2011. This is strange, but not unheard of.”

    This is not strange as SEPTEMBER 17th indicates 17th day of 9th month but in Iranian calendar which is equal to our DECEMBER 8th.

    • says:

      Thanks so much for this, I believe you were first to me with this correction. I put it on the last photo evidence post.


  19. Pingback: More Photo Evidence Is Found Confirming The Authenticity Of Iran’s RQ-170 Sentinel Claim | aviationintel

  20. tw says:

    Jay: “This is not strange as SEPTEMBER 17th indicates 17th day of 9th month but in Iranian calendar which is equal to our DECEMBER 8th.”

    That’s true. Today is the date 1390-09-19 (19 Azar 1390) in Iran’s calendar.
    Plus some of the images show a “martyr’s” portrait of Hassan Moghaddam, a high-ranking IRGC rocket scientist who was killed in a blast at a military base near Tehran in mid-November.

    • says:

      Thanks so much for the translation on the posters. Its frusterating not being able to instantly read them!


  21. Pingback: Iran | The Aussie Digger : Home of all Australian Veterans ex Service and Serving members

  22. J says:

    Iran has only released a video and no photos. Furthermore the video was broadcast on TV first, and then put online. Where do you get the 5D Mark II EXIF data from!?

  23. Your Future says:

    Exactly how could the Iranians ‘down’ ie. shoot down this thing and have it CRASH with so little damage?

    • says:

      See the post with the global hawk video, lots of things could have happened, even a spin. Thanks for posting!


  24. Pingback: همه سر کار بودیم.هواپیما قلابی بود. « naghshi

  25. Amir says:

    Hi, i really enjoyed it, nice work.
    My father is retired colonel of Iran Air Force, I did my military service in air force (and believe the worst thing in the world is that when you have to shout on your father’s face: Sir! yes sir!”) anyways, I have some comments concerning this story
    1. the young man that appears in these pictures is a colonel and he is a pilot of IRIAF and the older guy is IRGC general.
    2. it’s a school but an sport complex inside an air force base.
    3. Iran’s claim on a controlled landing is hard to believe, however everything is possible. actually it’s not the first time that we find US drones inside Iranian territory, this has happened several times since coalition forces invaded Afghanistan, and almost in all of the cases nothing more than a wreckage was left after crash and all of them where “Useless” predators or regular drones, but this one is a very unique bird!
    4. And don’t you think it’s time for US to stop this nuke paranoia?! you are wasting your money and time and effort (as well as ours) for just a paranoia. we have a proverb in Persian” a thief considers thinks everybody is a thief!” since US the only country that have ever used a nuclear weapon against innocent people, they always have paranoia of other nations are trying to develop a nuke bomb to kill Americans. come on dear Americans, it’s time to open your eyes! wake up!

  26. sahar says:

    Smith: Firstly, I would like tell you that almost 98% of Iranian schools have basketball court as you have never seen in your life.Secondly, the analyse is completely rubbish cos the plane has damaged during landing then how you could analyse from the distance and just based on crashes.
    This is completely bullshit.
    American’s must be so nervous with this and also terrifying,then they must analyse based on their dreamssssssssssssssssss

    • SouthPark says:

      Episode Imaginationland: Nuke Our Imagination! A nuclear missile is brought in to be shot into the Imagination Doorway …
      What I am about to tell
      you is highly classified.
      Two days ago, Muslim terrorists
      hijacked our imagination.
      Frankly we don’t know what
      their next move is or how to stop them.
      In times like these the government
      often turns to Hollywood for help.
      You creative filmmakers
      can think of idea we just can’t.
      That’s why we’ve asked you here,
      M. Night Shyal-amalam.
      The Sixth Sense, Signs,
      The Village, all very clever films.
      But can you use your amazing idea brain
      now to help us stop the terrorists?
      What if…
      What if it turns out
      they aren’t terrorists?
      But they’re actually werewolves?
      From the future?
      No. No, they’re terrorists.

  27. J says:


    The young man you claim as an IRIAF pilot has an IRGC insignia on his cap (clearly visible many times in the video). He is not an IRIAF pilot.

  28. wxman says:

    see this analysis for a reasonable theory how this drone was recovered so intact.
    It was commandeered (hacked) and flown to land. Since the US has outsourced most of it’s semiconductor manufacturing to China, and is no longer required to use milspec components to save cost, a hardware hack could hav e embedded in its systems from day one.

  29. Pingback: Fears for Pentagon air power as Iran claims drone capture - Page 9 - PPRuNe Forums

  30. MontgpomeryScott says:

    ‘AMIR’ is correct. He is a FREE PERSON.
    How DARE WE, the CONUS, allow these DRONES of the CoONUS to be deployed in the airspace of another NATION?
    WILL they be deployed over another sovereign nation’s ‘AIRSPACE’?
    I didn’t protest the illegal monitoring of IRAN, because I was not irabian….

  31. Mr. Smith says:

    If a flying wing losses forward thrust due to engine failure at altitude. The engine cannot restart. When the air speed drops below 125 mph the aircraft will go into a flat spin due to lack of forward thrust. The large wing area acts as a large boomerang /parachute reducing the g forces on impact. Flying wings are well known for this problem due to no tail. A compressor / engine stall can be induced by a near miss from a hawk or Sam-3/6 missile at altitude If exploded in front of the air craft. This is how they got Powers u-2 back in 1960’s and a lot of B-52’s over Hanoi. It dose not take a direct hit to bring down the drone. The single engine over the hood air intake design is well known for causing compressor stalls on this type of flying wing design, therefor the angle of attack is critical when approaching mach 1 at 45,000+ feet. The U-2 and the F-117 had the same angle of attack problem.
    The air frame on the Q-170 drone uses a newer form of stealth technology that uses direct injection molded plastic parts and or panels for rapid and cheep construction. This is why it looks like a kids model airplane. The same technology only bigger. The wings are designed to be removable for air-cargo transport and the radar absorbing tape is applied before each flight to cover hot spots and airframe gaps ET.
    Stealth only reduces the radar cross section by about 45db at X-band and less at S or L band frequencies. Modification of the older SA-3/6 radar systems with FM slope detectors allows older soviet era radar systems to ea-sally detect and track any so called stealth aircraft within 40 miles and out to 150 miles for search radar when flying at hi altitude. This is how the Serbs took out the F-117 back in 1997. They simply modified there SA-3 radar sets by converting the am detectors in the radar receivers to FM. The Germans used FM slope detectors on there radar sets in WW2 to defeat the use of chafe on B-17’s and B-24’s.

    Stealth technology was designed to only work against WW2 era AM pulse radar systems and not newer systems that use FM pulse do-poplar radar such as your local weather radar used by most US TV stations. Stealth only reduces radar cross section by a maximum of 45db and glint by 20 db at x-band. Most modern radar sets can detect signals as low as -120db. leaving a good +60db of fade margin to track the air craft. At 45,000 feet there is no ground clutter to hide behind. You just glow in the dark like a June bug. With slope detection the faster the target moves the stronger the signal becomes in the radar receiver.
    Once the Serbs shot down the f-117 it was rendered obsolete and retired. The same thing happened when the Chinese’s shot down the SR-71 with the S-300 missile system. The real issue is if the Iranian’s really did shoot down the drone with modified / upgraded Russian radar systems then Stealth is no longer cost effective making the f-35 and the f-22 worthless due to the costs of production and operation per hr.
    This event is as important to the future use of stealth aircraft use as the Serb shoot down of the f-117 or the Soviet era shoot down of the U-2 and will alter any future attack plans by the US or Israel on Iran or Syrian air defenses systems. Stealth was invented 30 years ago and electronic upgrades in ground radar systems have rendered it useless as a reliable means of future sneak attack on an enemy. Only low altitude cruse missises will get thru such as used in the recent Libyan operations by NATO.

    • says:

      I think you are on the right track here in many ways but there are some broad assumptions at work as well. Yes there is no stealth, just low observable, I have discussed this at length on this site. But low observable airframes paired with a good ESM/RWR outfit and even possible jamming kit would make an aircaft much more survivable than if it did not have these features? PLUS, the F-117 and U-2 are manned aircaft, lots of risk involved. The RQ-170 was built with loss in mind so now that the cat is out of the bag I think the tempo and production rate will INCREASE as the risk to national secrets are now nominal. Different concept than a high end silver bullet technology.

      GREAT THOUGHTS! Please continue sharing!


  32. Stephan says:

    There is a severe flaw in your ‘fake’ argument: the EXIF data actually prove that it is real! Being American you certainly do not know that the Persian calendar differs from ours…. 9/17 = 12/8!!!

  33. The one says:

    The forward top opening with the crude screws is where I belive the Iranians cut into the craft post landing.

    The use of an angle grinder explains the extended cut.

    Clearly suspecting it could be booby trapped they would cut into that area above the inlet duct as they can see its likely to be the safest point of entry.

    Further the intake entrance has the correct curves for subsonic laminar flow.

    The only point of doubt is the angle of the top wing BUMPS, they are inline with the leading edge which implies a vehicle that only travels in the sub 300 MPH range, wheras the other pictures of the beast seem to show that they are in the direction of flight.

    So in summary given it has no stealth coating(grey) and it landed safely it is clearly a CIA Trojan Horse, best they xray it quickly and move it into a secure Bismuth lined room in a hurry before it activates….

    Thats my two cents worth!


    • says:

      Really interesting comments The One, the humps look the same to me, but I would not be suprised if the speed is slower than some predict.

      Stealth coating would have been baked into the polymer/composite frame. This aircraft is very different than the stealth fighters and bombers that we know so well. I doubt very much that this is a Trojan Horse. I may do a post on this later.

      THANKS so much for posting and reading!


  34. Amir says:

    to MontgpomeryScott

    I didn’t get your point. would you please make it clear?!

  35. Amir says:


    you are right. he is apparently a bastard IRGC.

    • says:

      Please refrain from name calling etc here. There are many other websites to talk about bad actors or politics.


  37. Keithj says:

    I remember how the Iranians who broke into the US embassy many years ago stitched together the shredded documents in the bins there and read all the “secret” messages. They are very capable people! Don’t underestmate what they may have done here.

    That doesn’t confirm or deny that it’s a genuine capture: I wouldn’t put it past them to make a perfect model as a “fox the Yanks” exercise, and trot it out after they’d shot down a US drone of the same type.

    I’m surprised, though, that there are no markings on it – I would expect a flag, or a serial number, or some such.

  38. Pingback: Policing the Herd: Domestic Drones for ‘Domestic Terrorists’ « 2012 The Awakening

  39. Susan says:

    Honestly you Americans live in your own world of justification and reasoning.
    you don’t live in the world of facts.
    Why would Iranians produce any real image of the thing?
    They don’t have to.
    Even if these photos are fake, accept it American! It is fake, and they gave you fake images! Don’t act emotional. For once, accept it!
    How about reaction of White House and Washington D.C.? Even if I don’t look at those images, by looking at the news I can say, what Iran is saying is right, and what America is claiming is W.R.O.N.G. or better say, as usual, A L.I.E.

  40. mikejas says:

    here are my thought.. or theories or whatever they are

    That drone is a replica of the real rq-170, it probably has fake stealth coating and other parts to give away misleading information. i just find it hard to accept that a country like U.S, with all their innovations and great minds, would let a very important drone such as this to fly in enemy airspace without a self-destruct mechanism in place. the phrase “when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away” comes to mind.

    in my opinion, CIA intentionally landed it intact inside iran’s backyard, like a trojan horse with tracking signals and live transmitters.. they’re expecting Iran to treat this as a very special trophy and will be protected at all cost. so basically they would drag this thing inside their holiest of holy secretive base.

    you’re all must be thinking, “for what purpose would CIA wanna do that?” so here are my thoughts again.
    1. a fake info on a very crucial U.S military tech would confuse rival counter-tech production. imagine China and Russia getting busy with a worthless drone design.
    2. A very important specimen like this drone would probably be studied and disassembled to a very very protected place to prevent U.S from re-acquiring it. and probably that’s where other important arsenals would be stored.. like a Nuclear weapon.

    everybody right now must be thinking that im crazy for thinking these stuff, but isn’t it fun to just let our my mind wander a bit? 😀

  41. Pingback: Policing the Herd: Domestic Drones for ‘Domestic Terrorists’ | Richard Swander


  43. Pingback: Should the United States destroy or recover the RQ-170 drone that Iran has? - Page 5

  44. M says:

    Some notes:
    There things you wont know unless you live in Iran:
    1- When I hear something from the gov. or tv my first assumption is that it is a lie.
    2- Creating something which looks smooth and excellent with some odd stupid rough defects is like an Iranian product sign (perfect frame and odd wing joints)
    3- The EXIF date is really serious to me.
    4- They are badly hiding the belly, maybe its a fake? or to hide evidence of a hard landing probably after gliding… which would suggest they really didn’t gain control on the plane.

    I would say 50% fake. Because one thing Iranians are really good at is mocking up something very close to the original one but leaving some stupid defects.

    If not fake I would almost be sure the empty fuel, gliding… theory would be the best fit.

    5- 🙂 And usually the schools have a basketball/volleyball or something like that.

    • says:

      Thanks so much for your thoughts, did you read through all the posts that address the belly. I really think the hidden belly is do to the damage. They said they took it down using controlled cyberwarfare so by showing that it crashed it show how realistic their capabilities are.

  45. TA says:

    It is a real fake. Images of the RQ-170 have been all over the internet for a few years. It’s not “secret”, but looks like it should be. It was belly landed in Iran on purpose by the US. Not as a CIA trojan horse, but as a reason to escalate tensions between the US and Iran. We need a valid excuse to bomb. This will get the ball rolling in the right direction. They learned their lesson on staging invasions from Iraq. My guess is the thing is “close enough” to the actual craft to make it interesting to Iran and China without giving away the top secret goodies of the real craft. Perhaps 20-15 year old stealth tech inside and out. Maybe I’m just paranoid.

  46. I’m really not convinced by your analysis

    I think you’re seeing things that aren’t even there…. this ‘thing’ we’re looking at doesn’t even have a leading edge, the nose is obviously not straight, it is not a flying machine. You cite the way skunk works can put together weird designs and you show a photo of a prototype that obviously CAN fly…. there’s no way in hell this thing we’re looking at in Iran has ever flown

    What about the pins in the wings and the sellotape stuck to the wing holding up the cammo net… everything about this screams botch job.

    • says:

      I RQ-170 has been flying out of Kandahar since 2007 I believe, there have been pictures and they are identical. Its tough, but you cannot relate the look of a polymer/carbon fiber formed aircraft with an F-22 or B-2, it looks fake because the real thing LOOKS FAKE. Things are a bit out of whack because it obviously landed at least on an unprepared suface and took a beating. I have seen a lot less likely machines fly. I greatly disagree with your analysis, but hey thats ok. To each there own.

      Thanks for commenting and visiting!


    • says:

      There have been pics, with what appears to be the EXACT same design geometry flying out of Kandahar airfield for years and the USAF admitted it exists years ago. It does fly.

      Why is tape and a pin weird? Need more evidence than a feeling its a botch job created in a couple of days.

  47. Cannoneer says:

    Real or Fake…big question. If it is real, it traveled over 140 miles into Iran before they “shot it down.” So if they had the “technology” to locate it, why did they wait till it was deep in the country? Also, why don’t they say what they used to shoot it down the UAV? Conflicting info from the Iranians, shot down, took control of, or it crashed landed on its own…take your pick, for they have. The Sentinal is 2nd Generation Stealth Tech, as is the B2, and already nearly obsolete for the most part since the development phase was a decade or two ago. No doubt that 3rd and 4th Generation is already in the works or are already flying. On a side note, are there any pics showing the rear of the UAV? Seen frontal, side, above at an angle, but no direct rear photos. You’d think they like to show their “prize” completely to prove it is what they say it is.

    • says:

      Cannoneer, thanks for posting, some of my perspectives:
      1.) Because that is when it was detectected, within the range of detection, or transmitted leading to detection or when whatever they attempted to do to the drone “took” or, most likely, when a catastrophic failure occured.
      2.) Exactly take your pick. I will discuss all theories soon. Not unlike Iranian government to create conflicting reports
      3.) You could possibily classify it as this but not exactly as it would could use elements of older stealth design but much newer materials and production methods, avionics. The threat warning package on this thing may be more advanced than anything else.
      4.) I was blown away with how much detailed video and still photo material that was realeased, usually its a grainy photo. They do go behind it and walk around it but there is not much back there to see.

  48. Pingback: Iran and Drone

  49. Heller Fred C; says:

    Unfortunately I must agree with the author that this is probably the real deal, though what part the iranians took in bringing it down is a big unknown.

  50. Andrew says:

    Excellent analysis.

    Some proof reading would have prevented this:
    “…talk a lot about how this thing is way to small compared…”

    Way *too* small.

    • says:

      Totally agree, I do a few passes and I am working on it. Time wise I figure the content is paramount. Any corrections are greatly appreciated.

      Thanks for reading!


  51. morgan says:

    There might be a lot of reasons why wings are broken/ cut. I am thinking if I found such an expensive toy, and I wasn’t sure what it is / how operates I would do my best to not lost that toy so if it was a kind of automobile I would take the tires off or if it was a kind of flying object I would take the wings of.
    In this case, if the drone got captured because of an unexpected situation or an accident, they would cut the wings to prevent it is controlled and fly away.
    Currently the reason is an unknown for us but it is obvious some people here helped free technology transfer to Iranians.

  52. The One says:

    Just so you all dont get to excited, todays claims that the Iranians spoofed the GPS and Jammed the downlink are incorrect!

    There is also basic inertial nav as well as fluxgate magnetometers(compass) on board that within the code loops will not allow such a transgression from its course.

    So it still puts the likely reason as it is a troijan horse.


  53. Catsoo says:

    I have downloaded many high resolution photos from Iranian online sources from the same video event. One such source is and another Iranian armed forces webpage. Also, these images are posted at under the related title.Accessing those images will clear a lot of “If’s”!
    I am baffled by some here who still claim the aircraft is fake when the White House has not only confirmed the news but also is officially asking for it.

    However the analysis may be interesting here but questioning if the UAV is real or not at this point is rather childish.

    Some can doubt what they see as long as they wish but the facts are pointing to Iranians capturing a windfall of US military technology. Iranians have in numerous times surprised the world with their capabilities, don’t be surprised if they reverse engineer and upgrade RQ-170 sister sooner than most people think. This is what Eric Schmidt, the Google chairman has recently said; ” Don’t underestimate the Iranians” (

    • says:

      Catsoo- Yes, some people will just not look at the facts, you can’t win there, but everyone is entitled to their opinion and I respect that.

      If you have any shots that are not shown in my RQ-170 posts over the last two weeks or so PLEASE send them over to

      I also do not doubt the Iranians, but I really think they already have a ton of drone tech in their hands as it is. There may be some new info gained here, especially when it comes to avionics and such but as far as stealth design goes I think it is a bit less of a windfall than some believe.

  54. The One says:

    Because there are multiple redundant systems on board so a total failure BUT where it still can fly is NOT possible.

    Its a turbofan working in a benign environment, NO flameouts…not the T34 that some claim as that is to big a diameter.

    I still say its a Trojan because the grey stealth coating was removed, it washes off easily.

    Why would the Americans send it, because 6 weeks ago the Russians gave the Iranians a certain device and the US wanted Iran to test that device for ELINT purposes. Why would they want to do that…

    PRELUDE TO INVASION, it always is…

    You heard it here first!


    • says:

      I disagree, we have lost some of the most redundant aircraft every built, of higher value than the RQ-170 with a human oboard do to software or mechanical failure. It happens constantly. As far as the TF34, there has been talk for years of them working on a militarized, secret version probably with a lower bypass config and smaller fan disk.

  55. The One says:

    Just to give a little more insight, the drone is at 50,000ft, that is the same as having a 2.5mm wingspan model at the end of a 1500mm pole, its invisible up there!!!!!

    That a 0.1 degree angle across its wingspan and its moving at 250MPH, so when its in stealth mode it will NEVER be detected, so the US gave it to them…..

    • says:

      Kevin, there are other means of detection than visual or radar, but I agree they most likely did not detect it but they found it after it crashed do to mechanical failure. Are you saying that the US intentionally gave the drone to Iran?


  57. Pingback: How are nuclear energy and missile defense systems related?

  58. Pingback: RQ-170 Pictures and Article

  59. Pingback: Sentinal sealer | Biancadeacy

  60. Pingback: coffee mugs

  61. Pingback: My Homepage

  62. Pingback: goodyear air conditioning , air conditioning goodyear

  63. Pingback: best ways to lose weight

  64. Pingback: jQuery Color Picker

  65. Pingback: the schedule here

  66. Pingback: Marketing Music Online

  67. Pingback: Mother of the Bride Dresses

  68. Pingback: cents off coupons online

  69. Pingback: what is a superpac

  70. Pingback: hip hop beats for sale

  71. Pingback: investment manager jobs

  72. Pingback: Igre 12345

  73. Pingback: Spiritual colon

  74. Pingback: Irans Drone Hoax

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *