The image of Iran’s new stealth fighter patrolling the skies was designed to induce awe among the country’s enemies. But Iran’s claim to military superiority crumbled after bloggers discovered that the jet had actually been superimposed upon snowy mountain peaks using Photoshop.
Experts had already expressed doubts over the Qaher-313, Iran’s second domestically-produced plane, unveiled this month at a special ceremony attended by President Ahmadinejad.
The jet, said to combine the features of the US F-35 and the F-22 fighters, could not fly because it was too small and made of plastic, critics claimed. Lacking rivets and bolts, the plane was a miniature model or a working prototype at best, aviation experts said.
So the Khouz News website published an image of the Qaher-313 in majestic flight, soaring over a mountain peak.
Iranian bloggers however spotted that the image of the plane was identical to that issued at the February 2 unveiling in Tehran. The angle of the plane, the reflection of the light and shadows were the same.
All that had changed was that the image had apparently been superimposed on to a background of Iran's Mount Damavand, taken from the stock image site, PickyWallpapers.com and slightly lightened.
Ahmad Vahidi, Iran’s Defence Minister, had claimed that the plane could fly low to avoid radar, carry a weapons payload and was constructed of “high-tech materials”.
However the “faked” flight shot confirmed the view of sceptics such as David Cenciotti, who writes for the Aviationist blog.
Analysing the initial image released by Iran he said the cockpit appeared to be too small to accommodate a human pilot, and was filled with controls “of a type you expect to find on small private planes”.
The plane appeared to be “nothing more than a large mock-up model made out of plastic”, lacking “the characteristic rivets (and) bolts all aircraft, including stealthy ones, feature.”
Mr Cenciotti said: “The air intakes are extremely small whereas the engine section lacks any kind of nozzle: engine afterburners could melt the entire jet.”
Aviation magazine Flight International said that the poor-quality footage released by Iran of the aircraft in flight was most likely of a remote-controlled plane fashioned to resemble the Qaher-313.
John Reed, military and defence expert at Foreign Policy magazine, said: “It's seriously unlikely that such an aircraft has room to carry the avionics, radars, electronic countermeasures, heat masking gear, and, most importantly for a fighter, the weapons that make modern stealth jets effective.”
Iran dismissed the doubts as “enemy propaganda.” But the publication of the photo on Khouz News, a website focusing on news from the southwest province of Khuzestan, suggests the regime is primarily seeking to impress an internal audience with “evidence” of scientific advancement.
Although the Islamic Republic may be no closer to building the perfect stealth fighter, it is getting better at using Photoshop. Previously Iran was caught out when the authorities digitally added a fourth missile to a 2008 picture of a missile test.
Claims that Iran successfully sent a monkey into space this month were questioned when two different animals were featured in the pictures released by state media.
Last year Iran claimed to have built the Koker 1, the world’s first vertically launching drone. After closer examination of the photos, pilot and blogger Gary Mortimer concluded that the design bore a striking similarity to a vehicle which had been built and launched by a team from Chiba University, Japan, in 2008.
A fine art: History retouched
The curious case of the extra missile
It seems Tehran has form for this sort of thing. This picture, released in 2008 by the infamous Revolutionary Guard and syndicated by Agence France Presse, purported to show four missiles soaring skywards as Iran demonstrated its military prowess to the world. On closer inspection, the weapon third from the left looks suspiciously like the first, and so it proved when Associated Press released their version of the picture, received from a different source. The revelation came too late for the LA Times, the Financial Times and the Chicago Tribune, which had all used it on their front pages. It also appeared on the BBC and New York Times websites.
Follow the leader
With his jet-black hair and youthful complexion, the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is clearly sensitive about his image. In September 2010 he was still one of America’s biggest friends in the Arab world and was invited to the White House for peace talks with the Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah of Jordan. Striding towards the East Room they were snapped by AP’s photographer Pablo Martinez Monsivais – Obama in the lead, Mubarak behind and to his right. By the time the picture appeared in Egypt’s state-run Al-Ahram newspaper, Mubarak was at the head of the group. Less than six months later he was ousted from office and now languishes in custody.
Mourning has broken
Never ones to welcome disorder at the best of times, the government in Pyongyang was certainly not about to start for Kim Jong-il’s funeral. Stragglers who were making the six-deep crowd for the Dear Leader’s snow-bound procession in 2011 look untidy were simply airbrushed out of the official pictures, leaving behind an almost perfectly ordered array of mourners. Whether the handful of men met with a similar fate in real life has not been confirmed.
In 1937 Hitler went to Berlin to meet the film-maker Leni Riefenstahl, who had been in thrall of the Führer since hearing him speak at a rally in 1932, and who would go on to direct propaganda films for the Third Reich.
He also took Josef Goebbels, although he was mysteriously erased from a picture of the gathering afterwards. Some have speculated his removal was due to Hitler’s anger at his propaganda chief’s affair with a Czech actress.
Other leading figures of the Second World War were similarly partial to creating their own versions of history: Stalin had a commissar who had displeased him excised from a group photograph, while Mussolini erased a horse-handler to make himself appear more heroic.
And the images at the bottom right, showing King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on a trip to Banff shortly before the outbreak of the war in Europe, reveal that even moderate leaders were at it. The Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon McKenzie King wanted to look powerful next to the Queen Mother – so simply made her husband disappear.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies