Center for Strategic Communication

Photo: via David Cenciotti

Photo: via David Cenciotti

It’s either one of the biggest aviation news scoops in the last decade, or the latest in Hollywood fakery. Today ace aviation reporter David Cenciotti circulated the above photo, apparently depicting a stealth helicopter similar to those used by the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command in the May 2011 raid that killed Osama Bin Laden in his Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound. The photo originally appeared with little notation on Photobucket.

Thing is, a movie about the Abbottabad raid entitled Zero Dark Thirty features prop stealth helicopters that, coincidentally, appear to be loosely based on Cenciotti’s own reporting from last summer. Check out the 38-second mark in the official trailer for a glimpse of the controversial film’s version of the “Silent Hawk” helicopter, as the press has dubbed it. Looks a lot like the thing in the photo, if you ask us.

Cenciotti agrees. “It looks like it may really be the mock up for the new Osama Bin Laden movie,” he tells Danger Room.

Zero Dark Thirty, directed by Kathryn Bigelow — she of Hurt Locker fame — is slated for a December release. To support the production, the White House, Pentagon and CIA all offered Bigelow and her screenwriter Mark Boal unprecedented access to government sources and facilities.

But Special Operations Command chief Adm. William McRaven insists his command was not involved. “I have no interaction and no one on my staff has any interaction with — what’s her name? Bigelow?” McRaven told Danger Room in May.

So it’s doubtful the filmmakers were shown surviving copies of the radar-evading copter, which is reportedly a modified version of the Army’s standard Blackhawk troop transport.

Not that Bigelow needed a guided tour.

One of the Silent Hawks crashed in the compound during the nighttime assault. The crew and passengers were unscathed but the copter itself was a total loss and was blown up at the scene, leaving only fragments to be picked apart by Pakistani, Russian and Chinese analysts … and scrutinized by reporters and movie special effects designers.

If the photo does depict a film prop, as we strongly suspect, it wouldn’t be the first time Hollywood has manufactured a convincing military mock-up. Readers of a certain generation might recall the surrogate Soviet Hind helicopters in the action flicks Rambo 3 and Red Dawn (the 1984 version, thank you very much). The Hinds were in fact modified Puma copters acquired on the civil market.

More recently, Columbia Pictures designed the faux F/A-37 carrier-based fighter for the so-bad-it’s-awesome technothriller Stealth. More than a few people were convinced the F/A-37 was real after the Navy clumsily posted photos of the prop on its official website.

Don’t be those guys. Until we get confirmation, there’s only a slim chance Cenciotti’s photo shows a real stealth helicopter. It’s way more likely the copter is an actor.