Close Up Pictures of the RQ-170

Check out these hi-res screenshots of the RQ-170 Sentinel drone that went down inside Iran recently. They give a unprecedented close up view of the airplane; so unprecedented that many, including me, wondered at first blush whether this drone is real. It seems increasingly likely that the drone Iran is showing off is indeed an RQ-170. While the coloring looks different than it does in earlier pics of the jet, these images reveal  details like seams for access ports, light damage to the wing and a grill over the engine intake that may be designed to increase the jet’s stealthiness. Notice how there might be damage to the jets wing roots; perhaps they were sheared off for transport. Who knows?

These pictures also show a plane that almost looks a bit dated compared to latest batch of stealth drones taking to the skies (keep in mind that’s an extremely unscientific analysis on my part, modern stealth tech is extremely complex and you can’t just judge this thing’s performance on a few screenshots). That’s a good thing, since Iran has already promised to reverse engineer the bird along with all its sensors and share that data with China and Russia. Speaking of sensors, the real cause for concern with this plane falling into Tehran’s hands is the fact that it’s rumored to contain a similar radar to the AN/APG-81 radar found on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter along with advanced SIGINT sensors and cameras. You can bet that Beijing will be very interested in using tech recovered from this plane to develop countermeasures to some of our most advanced sensors.

Click through the jump for more of the pictures, discovered by David Cenciotti. He asks the decent question over on his blog; why is the drone being displayed in a gymnasium with what appears to be fluid all over its hardwood floor? Is the hidden underside of the Sentinel so damaged that it left a mess all over the floors?







  • lidarron

    Why the curtain around the undercarriage?

  • Black Owl

    “Speaking of sensors, the real cause for concern with this plane falling into Tehran’s hands is the fact that it’s rumored to contain a similar radar to the AN/APG-81 radar found on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter along with advanced SIGINT sensors and cameras.”

    I only have four words after reading that: Foxtrot Uniform Charlie Kilo!

    • DarthAmerica

      To power a radar like that in an airframe that small is questionable…


  • Wild Bill

    The wet floors…?? The Iranians pissed all over themselves when they saw a for real US drone up close…hahahah

    • m167a1

      Looks more like the just polised the heck out of the floor for the photo op.

      I’m guessing they have it in a school or gym to avoid further unwanted attention from the Air Force.

      • blight

        Yup. When you use a floor buffer or polisher, water is left over in the uneven pockets of the surface.

        I guess mr blogger has never had to work with one? Blogging pays for some.

  • @4FingrsOfBurbon

    Housed in a gym? Sounds likely, put it in a school because they know we won’t JDAM it…

  • Joker1

    There’s no way that an AN/APG-81 could fit in the nose of this aircraft.

    • PMI

      Individual modules could be used in a SAR/SLAR array.

  • Sanem

    the stealth shaping on the Sentinel isn’t all that advanced, hell it looks a lot less stealthy than any UCAV being worked on right now. and it doesn’t have to be, just good enough to foil the outdated radars Iran has

    I doubt it had super-advanced equipment on board because a) they’re designed to be risked, lost and thus used over enemy territory, and b) off the shelf technology will suffice for most missions

    and all modern military aircraft are equiped with failsafe devices that destroy any valuable equipment when the aircraft crashes. remember the Mirage 2000 that crashed over Afghanistan a while back? it used such a system, so why wouldn’t a 30 year younger aircraft used for stealthy recon?

    more important perhaps is the question was it worth the loss? what did Iran really get out of it? a non-stealthy design, probably with little or no stealth coating? off the shelf sensors and hardware it would have probably gotten easily from Russia or China? the US lost perhaps what, $20 million worth of equipment, in exchange for an around the clock first hand view of any part of Iran, without the risk of losing a pilot

    • jboy

      the an/apg-81 comes in several design sizes as a matter of fact it can fit in a space half that size

  • BobSacamano

    Trojan Horse? Hopefully, with the real RQ-170’s flying at angels 5 over Tehran, as I type…

  • Todd

    Is it possible that this was sacraficed to see what the Iranians were capable of in the electronic warfare department.

    • Zach

      our most advanced stealth asset? Heck no! If it was a sacrifice, they probably would have put the self destruct button on it, which obviously they didn’t.

      • DaveH

        Do we know that it didn’t? A self-destruct device doesn’t have to destroy the whole vehicle to be useful. Just because there is no sign of destruction on the parts of the vehicle we can see doesn’t mean other key parts weren’t taken care of.

        • halcyon_

          great point. It doesn’t need to self-destruct like the starship Enterprise.

          • blight

            Bear in mind Enterprise self-destruct was actually pretty bad…only half of the saucer was properly obliterated, and the rest of the drive section went hurtling away into the atmosphere…and if they hadn’t been fighting over a planet, it would have survived to be captured.

            In the defense of the NCC-1701, it had been shot to hell by Khan in the previous movie.

          • halcyon_

            lol! Yes, ok, that is true. Plus 1 to you sir!

          • blight

            For rofflecopters and lolcats, the youtube video of the event:

            Ironically, any self-destruct had better do better than this.

    • halcyon_

      Or to feed them false technology? Like we packed the drone with viruses and fake electronics? I sure hope so.

      That would have been a stroke of genius but somehow I’m starting to think this is just a colosal breach of battlefield IT security. Being able to take electronic control of U.S. tech in the field is bigger than getting hands on a sample of our hardware. If they can hack our drones they can probably do a lot more. Thank God this particular model doesn’t carry weapons.

      • NiceOne

        May I congratulate you on your brilliance. Whether or not you are right, feeding an opponent a pawn to feed a virus is a darn good idea.

        • halcyon_

          Todd gave me the idea. I wish I could claim credit.

        • iranaware1

          There’s a USB plug inside that says “Connect to Top Secret Computer to learn Yankee Secrets”, In Farsi.

    • Bill

      and whether they are good at Basketball or not.

    • jim

      Right maybe we let them get it, to show them what we know about their nuke ambitions. It looks like a piece of crap maybe it is. Why did we not destroy it ? We say we lost it ? we track all the space junk and we lose one uav ? really

      • blight

        By that logic, we had Echelon and “Bin Laden determined to attack the United States” still slipped to the cracks.

        It’s one thing to have massive raw data inputs. It’s another to make sense of it and fight inertia to bring resources to bear on threats that might seem…irrelevant.

      • ali

        you loos every things baby. soon or later you will find it out

    • nawaaz

      “Is it possible that this was sacrificed ” get real , Americans make no sense . Even their presidents, just look at that little Bush; what an idiot….shame on those intelligent people living there. Most Americans live in a movie where the good guys are always Americans, no matter others call them baby killers.

      • Mort

        Don’t be disrespecting America, our country has saved millions and helped millions while no one ever comes to aid us.

    • shsshed

      down with usa policy

  • dddd

    The noise about the radar really concerns me. In regards to the Trojan Horse idea, I am not convinced that American planners would think that could work. The Iranians are intelligent. They are not going to connect the avionics or computers in this aircraft to any outside networks, which means there will be no chance for viruses or any other malware to propagate.

    • Guest

      Wireless networks? Cellphone networks? My guess is that if this is a Trojan horse they would design it with capabilities to break into those networks.

  • Bob

    What does that American Flag say on it??

    • LordF

      The US Flag says: “We will bring America to its knees!”

      • Manolo Calvares

        That’s Not trues it call Usa Go Bac to where you come From and dont disturb our territories ..

        • bob



    • Muhammad

      It says: “Down with USA”

      • moronoxy??what?


  • Bob

    Curtis LeMay is probably spinning in his grave!

    • Mitch S.

      LeMay’s been there.
      Remember the 3 B29’s that diverted to the Soviet Union during WWII? - the Soviets copied them and built their first nuclear bomber the TU4 (basis of the later Bear).

      • Thomas L. Nielsen

        The TU-4 was the “basis of the later Bear”? Only in the sense that the B-29 was the “basis”of the B-52.

        Regards & all,

        Thomas L. Nielsen

  • Josh

    I said it once I’ll say it again: yes,this is a setback but they were designed to be expendable. It’s stealth features aren’t really all that high tech and it’s sensors probably aren’t either. Let’s move on with our new aircraft and forget about these soon to be retired anyway UAV’s…

    • MCQkngiht

      It is designed to be expendable, but I don’t think anyone anticipated one of our adversaries recovering the drone largely intact. Just because it’s designed to be expendable doesn’t mean that it’s not a big deal if the enemy gets their hands on it.

      • mike j

        “Can’t afford to lose, can’t afford to USE!” Ever heard that?

        We were flying a spy plane over their territory. Like what, they’re just supposed to accept it, and not fight back? Oh! How dreadfully awful of these evil Iranians to take advantage of our misfortune…

        We lost a toy. So what? Wind down the hyperbole. This is barely even newsworthy.

        • iranian
  • nraddin

    You have to wonder what they are going to get out of an air frame that dragged itself to a stop on the ground. I suspect the reason we are not seeing the underside of that aircraft is because there is not underside to that aircraft. All the radars, sensors and cameras where dragged in the ground at high speed. They might get some good ideas out of the bits that are left, but it’s unlikely they will be able to reverse engineer equipment that is of any real value (other than what is based in the top of the airframe)

    • Dan Gao

      I hope that is true.

    • Mike

      The issue is not with Iran. It is with sharing the info with Russia and China. If the Iranians were any good at reverse engineering, why do they have a fleet of 35 year old F-14’s with less than 500 hours on the airframes?

  • Zain s

    I love the comments here that tries to comfort us by understating the stealth technology or just not giving this drone enough value.

    This is a highly classified drone, ok?

    Iran won this political battle so lets just suck it up.

    • moronoxy??what?

      Really, if it was THAT unimportant, how come everything about it has been classified about it. We have not seen that much information released about it, except for a few spy pictures taken here and there. Yeah, I think we just lost a little gem, just hope it wasn’t polished to the highest degree it could be.

  • someone

    Could that engine cover grill be used to “pre-dice” airborne animals i.e. birds so they arrive at the front of the compressor blades in more manageable sized chunks that might allow that small turbo-jet to safely ingest them. This would make sense being only a single engine aircraft. It could cut the chances of it being brought down by a flock of birds. Some people have been saying it could be used to increase its stealth but the spacing in the grill looks a little wide. That would only be useful against lower frequency range radars.

    • someone

      Also that liquid is likely an oil based liquid coolant that is used to cool down avionics components. This plane would likely not have a substantial hydraulic system as the flight control surfaces would typically be servo driven so I don’t think that is hydraulic fluid and if that is fuel that would refute the story of it flying until it ran out of fuel, plus they would have to be stupid to just be standing around in puddles of jet fuel in a closed room.

      • Guest

        Don’t you need water for paper mache?

    • Mike

      Really….”pre-dice” animals. It is for deflecting radar waves away from the fan blades of the engine. Same as F-117.

  • Greg Donovan

    OK, it’s a done deal. Tell the whiz kids to start shopping at Amazon for their spook toys and give us our black budget money back.

  • Lance

    Need to have a self destruct device in it so when it loses contact over time with a US controller it will completely blow up into small none tech stealing peaces.

    Boy Russia is so happy to be getting more US stealth tech from this there still dancing in the Kremlin.

  • Gordon Jenkins

    China makes them now out of plastic for a lot less!! (remember something called the PC? -Who’s your momma board maker now?). Leave the reverse engineering to the Chinese and the re-programming and drone viruses to the Russians especially if Microsoft Programmed the damned things! Drones are now useless crap!!
    Obama can’t do convential war, he’d be a war criminal. He can’t do nuclear, what nuclear winds go around, come back around the earth. Obama can’t use drones. He has to use pissed off dissidents and Navy Seals. No choices for Obama.

  • pfz

    Are we sure that is isn’t a Cylon? All it needs is that creepy red eye thingy,

    • Thomas L. Nielsen

      A Cylon? That means there’s gotta be a Number 6 around somewhere. Or a Number 8. Or both. Both would be cool…. [looks around excitedly].

      Regards & all,

      Thomas L. Nielsen

  • Eric Calabros

    its a kind of insult to Russian scientists and engineers to claim this toy has something that they dont already made similar one by now.. and it will be very offensive if say: iran is surpassing them in cyber war

  • jimt

    It’s a polished floor, it’s not wet…. sheesh you guys!

    • Ezekial25:17

      Of course they had to polish the floors of their BASKETBALL court to showcase their fake US drone.

    • moronoxy??what?

      Hahahahahahahaha That is probably the most accurate answer or response on here! :-)

  • Mark N.

    That grill looks so familiar somehow. Is it a Cadillac? (Also, the shape of the nose and airintake are different than previously published photos I’ve seen-that had no grille.

  • Stephen Russell

    Drone was flown on purpose into Iran
    Decoy for Iran forces
    Iran used EW to guide drone in IE cyberhijack drone mid air.
    Or drone crashed & then remade for publicity shots?
    Or air dropped into Iran??

    any possible above.

  • Maxtrue…

  • Curious

    Here is a rather in-depth, detailed blog analysis of the photos. The writer, so seems very aviatonics-savvy, writes extensively on the reasons for why it might be a fake, and reasons why it might be real.

    One thing I didn’t realize is that the timestamp (EXIF) on the digital photos are marked as September 17, 2011. Which, is entirely not uncommon for digital cameras to have the wrong date in their settings, but the writer writes that it could (only maybe) potentially mean that the Iranians went ahead and made a mock-up a few months ago hoping to use it when an opportunity came about like this.

  • Jacob

    It’s not like the Air Force ever gave the public a good look at the RQ-170 that we’d be able to tell whether this thing real or not.

  • JonhB

    Yeah. The Vietnam war was fake. We designed it to split the ruskies and chicoms. The Iraq and afghanistan wars are fake. Our KIA over there are actually living and working somewhere like in a landfill in the states. The DoD must have a lot of money and time to to waste on ideas like that.

  • Ben

    I really still think this is a mock up.

  • Ben

    We need to destroy this drone just like we should have destroyed the USS Pueblo.

  • Eric

    Why is nobody commenting on why the US let this thing go down and didn’t retrive it or go blow it up. If I were the guy in charge I would be letting heads roll for dropping a prize like this in their lap. Really a super bonehead move. First the CIA loses all their operatives because they are too lazy to meet at more than one restaurant, now they drop this. Man I am truely dissapionted in our “intelligence” community lately. We need the KGB back to keep us on our toes.

  • Rick

    This is nothing more then a Fake Drone ”Trojan Horse”…

  • Dr. P

    Come on now, why have we not smart bombed this site?

    • MustangMaj

      Are you deranged or just dumb. Iran isn’t Libya, and that was bad enough.

  • Pedro

    Is the RQ170 actually a “reconaisance drone” or is it an “attack drone”? Does anybody know?
    At 66ft wingspan it could carry 2 JDAMs internally, there is plenty of space in that big thick wing.
    I speculate that they’re not showing us the underside because they are about to play politics with the weapons:

    They may say: “You sent an unmarked, armed drone over our airspace - that makes you a terrorist.”
    And they’d be damn right!

  • hahahahaha

    Fly drone intentionally into Iranian Airspace?
    Drone is intentionally taken down?
    Drone is used as a Trojan Horse to find out where the Iranians would transport and store the drone.?
    Mark each location as you track its movements.?
    Save for future targets?


    • Juuso

      This sort of reasoning is usually called wishful thinking.

  • Mitch S.

    I think it’s in the gym because that’s where the high school art students made it.

    Though I’m beginning to side with the “we sent a fake drone” theory.
    A perfect AF plan. Now they can go to congress and cry how their current tech is compromised/obsolete and they need billions now for a new stealth bomber…

  • Rob

    Can anyone translate what is says on the flag draped on the wing?

    • boz

      It says:
      deathto USA,death to Israel, death to England. And USA can’t do a thing to us.

  • stephen

    Maybe tthis drone did not have all the high tech stuff in it-it was use to check out Iran’s air defences-radar etc.

  • Me

    Umm, if you guys care to take a close-up look of that “access hatch” on the top, you would notice that it looks like it was drawn on with sharpie.

  • Johnw

    i cant belive this thing did not have a fail safe self destruct,remote,either this is a ploy on our part or heads have already rolled.

  • xpoqx

    I am quite unqualified and in no way shape or form do I have a professional opion in this matter, but it is in my personal opinion that this is a fake, it’s a mock up or something on that level. Yes, I could see them stashing it in a school so we don’t bomb the f*ck out of it but still… It seems like a very poorly made fake by the very students of that high school.

    The big thing for me is IF this drone is/was THAT high tech and important, why would we not drop ordanance on it after it went down in Iran to cover our tracks. We have the ability to, so why did we just let it sit so they could recover it.

    My thoughts on the matter: We purposly modified this airframe with a not so stealth skin and lesser grade avionics so we could see if Iran even had the capability to do what it is they have claimed to do. Hack a drone and crash in their country. Further more, it is a trojan horse of sorts with a active GPS and listening devices in it so we can follow it to see if it goes to any military facilities in Iran or otherwise we did not know about, like if they gave it to china.

    But those are my unqualified personal beliefs…

  • Observer

    Looks like a paper machete project in a basketball court at a school.

  • JeebusSaveMe

    Ha Ha. You’ll see hundreds of Chinese made mini toy versions of this in WalMart by Christmas day.

  • JeebusSaveMe

    Bob wrote: “What does that American Flag say on it??”

    It says, “you’re boned!”

  • Guest

    No Air Force signs on the wings - there are more pictures available in the web from this highschool photo contest.

    This means it must have been a CIA flown sentinel. Often equipment thats produced for the agency alone is not that far advanced as many would believe. A drone developed for the CIA in small numbers (1-5) just doesn’t have to be eye on eye with military standard. Secret is not equal to high-tech. Further we still don’t know the purpose of the sentinel nor have we seen close up pictures of it before.

  • MDA

    It’s a fake - more than likely fibre-glass. As you can see when comparing to the real thing (, there is 1) no stealth coating 2) The top pods are removable on the genuine article to gain access to the electronics inside and as such have an outline on the frame of even more coating to disguise the access hatches 3) The leading and trailing edges also receive special attention. 4) The grill was put on by the iranians so we cannot see inside which would reveal ‘jack-shit’ inside. Same with the ‘glued on wings’ and no undercarriage. It was knocked up by a school for a science fair. It’s no more ‘stealth’ than my dad’s socks. Maybe they DO have some pieces of the real thing but this is not it. Ask yourself - does it look US high-tech we all know and love in the F-117, B-2 and RQ-170 (real thing) and the answer is noooo way, it looks like I knocked it up in my garage. Fake 100%

    • Guest A

      I agree with you. There doesn’t seem to be any access panels or covers anywhere on that thing. Even if it was painted with LO coating, you’d still be able to see rivet lines and mating surface seams that close up.

  • Ivo Ostyn

    Shades of the B2 stealth bomber but scaled down. Cannot help thinking how much the US has to thank the German Horton brothers and Alexander Lippisch for their development of the flying wing concept way back in the 30’s and 40’s. Lets face it the Luftwaffe was a wonderful toy shop from which the Yanks took the very best. How embarrassing to lose this toy over Iran and then have it displayed for all to see. I guess sometimes all that electronic wizardry falls flat on its face. Just a few questions, what’s to hide under the drone that needs to be so neatly covered with propaganda sheets? Where did this Drone take off from and from where was it controlled? What was it doing over Iran? I wonder if Israel is involved? so much that the American tax payer knows so little about and yet paid for.

  • RCDC

    Let Israel destroy it during the time they are sleeping before it can do harm to us

  • Dan Gao

    I’m still hoping this turns to be a mockup, or at the very least that the bottom is so smashed up that anything sensitive is destroyed. But I’m assuming the worst until I hear otherwise.

    Man, what a fuster cluck.

  • RCDC

    Locate and destroy the drone and while at it destroy missile site and nuke site.

  • Steve

    never being exposed to this stuff personally- but why are there no smashed bugs-like a windshield? And this looks pretty scratch free for tumbling out of the sky.

    • PMI

      Not a lot of bugs buzzing around at 30k+ feet.

  • noone

    So much wishful thinking about ploys and trojans in this thread, that Santa might just send you one back for Christmas.

    Regardless of what exactly did they capture, it’s a massive PR win.

  • RCDC

    My assumption on this is the information they may have gathered may not be 100% reliable. Just imagine a cpu falling from a high rise building. It looks like the wings were torn and glued back, the wheels are gone so its probably mess up, Unless the memory data storage an electronics inside are unharmed, then they may got the sensitive info.

  • matt

    You will get your verification when the PLA and Russia start giving Iran all sorts of new equipment, centrifuges, solid fuel rocket technology, SAM’s etc.

  • Enrico

    American UAVs are falling like drones during winter, a MQ-9 crashed in Seychelles:…

  • Matt

    The sensitive systems of all US aircraft are equipped with shock-induced mechanisms that destroy the electronics packages on these aircraft. Upon a hard impact, vials of acids and other corrosive compounds are cracked up, which melt circuit boards and hard-drives. They permanently scar the sensitive lens arrays and other useful gear on-board.

    For this reason, SpecOps helicopters that make a “hard landing” are often rendered a total loss, except for use as spare parts.

    Do you really think the US would not invest in simple countermeasures like this? Even after the loss of the F-117 over Kosovo?

    The real value is in the software and electronics that drive the aircraft, not the airframe itself.

    This will provide a better understanding of the physical construction and layout of the aircraft. These expendable aircraft are not given full stealth treatment, so the exterior skin coatings are public domain technology.

  • Matt

    I also question the authenticity of the condition of the aircraft. It may be based on retrieved components of an actual RQ-170, but my guess is that several aircraft engineers have patched this up and repainted it to create the impression of a fully intact drone.

    This would explain the shoddy welds and mismatched coloration, and the very non-stealthy rivets on top of the aircraft.

    They found the pieces and patched it back together-for better propaganda.

    This will also command a better price from Russia and China, who will realize the deception only after the money changes hands.

  • SomeGuy

    Kinda weird to see a US Drone that was in theatre without a paintjob, if you can’t tell its only coated in Primer. which makes the thought of is this really the actual drone or is it a cardboard prop used as propaganda, the internet is available to anyone and everyone can get a picture of the drone to build a replica.

  • zol

    Why the hell is the floor wet?
    And The grey aliens will hate that would their technology in the hands of violent muslims.

  • Avigator…


    As far as I know, Internet is not a good source. I think people who say it is a fake, should check non-Internet sources to get their answer.

  • tom

    wheres the cameras on this ugly thing

  • morteza babaei

    Now, Iran could build aircraft engines
    America is written on the banner of “America can do no wrong.”

  • A-12

    Never would have happened if we were still using Blackbirds! Thanks Clinton! Let’s keep losing advanced tech and wasting money on satellites and UAV’s. The Chinese with their satellite shoot down demonstration and now, one of many examples of how BAD of an idea these UAV’s are compared to the fact that SR’s were shot at over 1000 times and not one was hit. Today they would still be doing their job, getting shot at and making everyone else look foolish trying to catch them or shoot at them but instead we have them sitting all over the place a sad testament to waste! They were bought and paid for years ago, and annual costs are a drop in the bucket compared to ONE satellite launch. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have satellites or UAV’s, but the Blackbird’s would be more suited to this kind of work. Poor Kelly Johnson must be rolling in his grave…

  • tippy

    What a waste of taxpayer money.

  • gothia

    I agree ”I love the comments here that tries to comfort us by understating the stealth technology or just not giving this drone enough value.

    This is a highly classified drone, ok?

    Iran won this political battle so lets just suck it up”

    You morons think you are the best but this shows that your ass can be hacked anytime as long as you use software in your war-machines. You underestimate and insutl the whole 6 billion world included China Russia and the rest even though you only 250 million ruled by 13 families. This also shows that you will never wake up that clean-up your mess.

  • burmavet

    Big problem we have is the assumption that the those we disagree with are stupid. It has cost us dearly on many occasions. Will we ever learn? I doubt it.

  • jack
  • Magda

    I am trying to deicde on a WR since Nicks keeps letting me down by not playing. I have Travis Benjamin and Alshon Jeffery. Also need some suggestions for RB pick ups. I got Jonathan Stewart to put in but I am still not sure.