Fallen Somali Spy Drone Was Disguised as a Huge Bird

Turns out, biomimicry is a pretty good way of spying on people.

Adam Omar / Twitter

Most of the time when people ask if it’s a bird, a plane, or Superman, it’s just a plane. Sometimes, though, it’s a war-zone drone disguising itself with biomimicry.

A drone camouflaged as a large black bird fell out of the sky in Mogadishu, Somalia on May 1. No one is completely sure who it belongs to, or how it fell from the sky, but local news services point to Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency.

The drone’s design is remarkably lifelike — small propellers push the drone forward while the outer half of the wings maintain the illusion by flapping. It wouldn’t pass close inspection, but it’s far more likely to sneak overhead unnoticed than a military grade Reaper or Predator drone.

It’s not the first, and surely won’t be the last Mother Nature-inspired spy technology, because nature is the true OG of camouflage. Biodiversity has long served as inspiration for subterfuge, from the Greek’s Trojan Horse to this year’s GoatMan. The Trojan Horse wasn’t meant to be confused with an actual horse of course, and the only creatures GoatMan was trying to convince were goats, but it’s the same general concept: if you want success, emulate nature.

The idea goes back to the very first flying machines. Leonardo Da Vinci’s “ornithopter” took after a bat, and the Wright brothers carefully watched how birds work the wind.

For drones, pretty much anything that flies is liable to be copied. There’s the U.S. military’s six-inch, $4 million hummingbird drone that can fly 11 mph. Or there’s the dragonfly drone, a smartphone-controlled drone that makes the expression “fly on the wall” a reality for intelligence services.

The U.S. military has used similar black bird-shaped drones in the past as well. Prioria Robotics developed a bird drone fittingly named Maveric for the U.S. Special Operations that can fit in a tube, fly up to 65 mph, and get up to 25,000 feet high. And this blackbird doesn’t sing in the dead of night, either — according to Prioria, it’s practically silent.

The drone that crashed in Somalia doesnt match the sophistication of any of the above, so it’s unlikely that it was a U.S. asset, but it’s safe to assume it served a similar spying purpose. This particular bird-drone may have gone down, but in the larger context of history, biomimicry is the way to go.