The drone that isn’t

There is a great deal of talk at the moment about drones…and usually in news media when there is talk of drones and all over the internet this image of a reaper drone is used.



Even our own media use the image:

However the image is fake…its is a rendering. The Atlantic has the story

 James Bridle notes, this image, nominally of a Reaper drone, exists and it is everywhere.

He calls it “the most widely reproduced image” of a drone and says it’s become the “canonical” version of the technology. Because of its ubiquity it has come to symbolize the drone war, at least within some technological domains like Google Images, where it is the first result returned when you search “drone.”

But working on a hunch, Bridle did a little snooping and discovered that the image is a fiction, one that has come to represent the very real drone war.

The Canon Drone is indeed entirely unreal. A close inspection, and comparison with other Reaper images, including 09-4066, bears this out almost immediately. The level of detail is too low: missing hatches on the cockpit and tail, the shape of the air intake, the greebling on the fins and body. That ‘NY’ on the tail: it’s not aligned properly, it’s a photoshop. Finally, the Canon Drone’s serial, partly obscured, appears to be 85-566. The first two numbers of USAF serials refer to the year an aircraft entered service: there were no Reapers back in 1985 (development didn’t even begin until 2001).

The Canon Drone does not exist, it never has. It is computer generated rendering of a drone, a fiction. It flies over an abstracted landscape – although perhaps the same one as another canonical image, this Predator in flight, which, while unmarked, at least appears worn enough to be believable.

The explanation of how it came about is technical and interesting, suffice to say it is now used everywhere…and it is fake. The creator of the image thinks he knows how.

“I am not sure how it become the number one image of drones,” Hahn told me. “I think at the time I created it was one of the few images available. The only places I posted the image online were to a couple 3d sites. Here. and here. People must have got the image from either one of those sites.”

Why’d people buy this image, which, on even a little closer inspection is clearly a rendering? Bridle thinks drones “always appear otherworldly.” And truly, even in photographs I know are real, they seem more rendering than material object.

And, as importantly, I also think Americans craved (and crave) some way of understanding the war part of the drone war. How do these things actually work? How do they fire? How do they kill?

Hahn hinted at something like this in his own process. “I had never seen an image of a drone actually firing a missile so that is what I decided to create,” he said. And suddenly, everyone else, who also had never seen a drone actually firing a missile, had a way of seeing with their own eyes.


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  • Mediaan

    Drone pictures are everywhere, in their thousands. The small working toy versions start under $20. China makes drones big and small, cheap, so if you want a heap of them, try alibaba dot com.

    Or people buy one that’s sized halfway between a toy and a military UAV, maybe suited to aerial photography so they can check their guttering or monitor remote farm animals, such as the Draganfly X6.

    Check with Civil Aviation about rights to use airspace. They tend to allow them for hobby use not business, in most places.

    The military attack ones are just a suitable size drone with an attack mechanism instead of a camera.

  • Andrewj

    The real masters in the drone war, Im told these are the most advanced drones and even the USA uses them.