The USAF has at last published its RPA Vector: Vision and enabling concepts, 2013-2048, outlining its projected future for Remotely Piloted Aircraft: you can download it here.
I’ll be working my way through this in detail in the next several days, but scanning its 100 pages my eyes were drawn to Figure 4 on p. 18. Noting that the Air Force is transitioning to an all-Reaper flight, the images is captioned ‘MQ-9 firing an AGM-114 Hellfire.’
As James Bridle noted, the image is everywhere; it’s also nowhere: a fake.
At first, the feeling was just unease. Staring at it for some time, seeing it endlessly reproduced across the web and in print, it began to seem unreal, a fiction, too smooth, too perfect. But that’s an effect of drones: they always appear otherworldly…
Of course, it’s not just that. 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…
In fact, as Alexis Madrigal revealed last year, the image is a computer rendering produced by Michael Hahn:
“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.
Strange then, that the US Air Force – which surely has seen countless drones firing countless missiles – should resort to a computer-generated, photoshopped image. And an inaccurate one at that.