One of the most popular images of a military drone is a fake
posted Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 2:21 PM EST
It's one of the most widely used photos online when talking about drones. It's scattered in thousands of blogs, discussions, and articles around the internet, and is the number one Google Image result for the word drone (as well as near the top for predator drone and unmanned drone). The only problem? The drone doesn't exist, and the widely used photograph (shown below with a less common version on the right) isn't a photograph at all, but rather a 3D render that someone put together years ago, that has somehow managed to become almost ubiquitous.
The authenticity issue was picked up by artist James Bridle who started picking apart discrepancies in the image, and discovered that it wasn't what it seems. Dubbing it the "Canon Drone" due to its frequent use, he unearthed that its insignia was for the "138th Attack Squadron, part of the 174th Attack Wing (174 ATW), a unit of the New York Air National Guard," and the serial number would indicate it being built in 1985 — long before the Reaper drone came into being. He also points out that the NY letters on the tail aren't aligned properly, and that it's missing certain details that are in an actual drone.
A Twitter follower of Bridle's managed to dig up the origins of the image, and it turns out it was posted on a 3D rendering forum back in 2009 by artist Mike Hahn, and he even made a variant with an RAF logo. The image is still up on his portfolio, and he built it using Modo 302, and composited the image in Photoshop.
Once you know the image is a render and not a photograph, it becomes very easy to see that it's not real. It's too smooth and glossy for a real world object. But it's obviously good enough to survive first glance, which is perhaps why it became such a widely used image. And with people willing to just use the first result on Google Images without doing any background digging into the photo's origin, its use just continued to spread.
And, as easily as that, an artist's render for his portfolio has become widely assumed as either a real image, or at least an official rendering, of a Reaper drone.