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.

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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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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.

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