AEgis model of RQ-170 Sentinel
The Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel is a still largely classified US surveillance UAV with the characteristics of a low radar cross section or ‘stealth’ aircraft. Little was known of its existence prior to some grainy photos at the Kandahar airport in Afghanistan in 2007. Dubbed then, by a senior editor at Aviation Week magazine; ‘The Beast of Kandahar’.
AEgis decided to build a model of it when it became a major headline in early 2011 because Iran claimed to have hacked one and landed it with minimal damage.
The US confirmed it was legit. Iran later put it on public display, seeking to maximize US embarrassment.
And later still claimed they have reverse engineered and built their own.
They even have a sketchy video of what looks like a radio controlled ducted fan model of it flying; http://theaviationist.com/2014/11/12/video-of-flying-iranian-rq-170/
Five years after the incident, no definitive story of how the RQ-170 was captured has emerged. There are a lot of claims (by Iran) and speculation, on the part of Western aviation observers, as to how it may have been accomplished. The complete truth will likely never be known. Let’s look at a few of the possibilities….
- Iran claims they captured the RQ-170 by spoofing the GPS. They claim to have jammed the com-link, and then substituted false GPS signals to guide and land it in a place of their choosing. http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2011/1215/Exclusive-Iran-hijacked-US-drone-says-Iranian-engineer-Video
The trouble with this claim is that most military navigation systems, from ICBMs to nuclear subs, use an inertial reference system as the primary, then use GPS to update and correct errors of drift that occur naturally in such systems. In the days before GPS, unmanned vehicles, like SM-62 Snark, used star sighting, celestial navigation, like ancient mariners, to update its inertial nav.
So, did RQ-170 designers do away with inertia-nav and use only GPS to navigate? Possible I suppose, but seemingly unlikely. Iran could have induced some error, but this seems a far cry from causing it to fly to a place of their choosing and land. Study the pictures above of the fuselage on the truck. The background makes it seem the UAV landed in a remote rural area, not at an airfield. Also when Iran displayed their prize, they covered the bottom so as not to show the damage from a wheels-up belly landing.
- Another theory is that Iran had help, from China or Russia, and planned an elaborate ambush by hacking the com-link and substituting their own remote operators to control it and fly it to a place where the Iranians could grab it. http://www.armchairgeneral.com/ralph-peters-twilight-of-the-drones-recent-loss-of-rq-170-in-iran-a-possible-game-changer.htm
- Another theory is that of hardware ‘backdoor’ in some of the foreign made COTS, ‘off the shelf’ electronic components now used in US weapon systems. http://www.veteranstoday.com/2011/12/10/the-great-chinese-iranian-stealth-reconnaissance-drone-theft-caper/
- I have a theory too, although I have no evidence to back it up. It just occurred to me while writing this article. Jet aircraft are highly susceptible to FOD, foreign object damage, by sucking stuff like birds into the inlet. The RQ-170 has its inlet on top of the fuselage.What if, Iran used the fabulously capable AWG-9 radar on one of their F-14s to detect and track the drone? They used the F-14s as ‘poor-man’s’ AWACs in the Iran-Iraq war…
The then F-14 could vector an intercept with the water bomber to occur in a remote area, where a ground team is already waiting. What? Water bomber you say? What if you flew a bit above and ahead of the drone and did this?
I don’t know if Iran has water bombers, but they do have a 747 aerial tanker that could spray something that would choke the drone engine if inhaled. http://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/the-worlds-only-kc-747-tanker-is-flown-by-the-iranian-a-1581314071
After a flameout, I’m guessing the autopilot would attempt to glide down to an intact landing, probably with the gear still up.
The display of the captured drone has some speculating it went down in the water due to the floor of the display room being wet. http://aviationintel.com/did-irans-captured-rq-170-sentinel-take-a-swim/water/
What if it were wet from being doused from above?
Iran’s Flying Saucer Downed U.S. Drone, Engineer Claims
Iran copy flying
GPS Spoofing paper
new secure coding language
Iranian 747 tanker;
Captured RQ-170 wet;
Scott Booth Bio: Often found mucking about with 3D content development for visual simulations, or occasionally small UAS simulation. Usually found in the company of: salty NCOs, (yeah, you Tony), pilots- all types, gun nuts, manned space flight advocates, old car/truck/jeep fans, Sci-Fi readers, military historians, genius software programmers who like corny jokes, rocket scientists, dark beer drinkers, type-A sales guys, and other related near-do-wells.
Experience – 30 years visual simulation content development, company co-owner-founder – CG2 1995-2004, Small UAS simulation, AEgis-Vampire, Raven operator license, class 11-008, 2011.
Visual recognition expert, aircraft, armor, ships, subs, small arms, amateur military historian and shade tree auto mechanic.