Nick Mottern, journalist and director of, displays a replica of a “Reaper” drone and has sidewalk conversations about drone warfare outside New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Produced by Nick Mottern
Directed by David Berman


Here are some answers to questions asked frequently by people viewing the Reaper drone replica.

1. How is this drone model made?

The fuselage of the replica is formed around a cardboard tube, sometimes called a Sonotube (trade name), used as a form for pouring concrete. Plastic plumbing pipe is inserted in the tube to hold the wings, tail section and carriage. The pipes are held in place inside with parts made of rigid foam plastic insulation board and liquid foaming plastic. The cardboard tube is covered with fiberglass to make it weather resistant.

The nose and tail sections of the fuselage are molded in two halves in a vacuum plastic forming machine and then joined together and lined with expanding foam to make them rigid and dent-resistant. Then they are joined to the cardboard/fiberglass tube with Bondo, which is used to create the streamlined shapes of the fuselage.

The wings are made of plywood and the bombs and missiles of mailing tubes, aluminum flashing (fins) and molded plastic or foam plastic (noses).

The stand/lift for the drone is a sheet-rock lifter with its top platform removed to receive the drone carriage.

It takes one person about three days to assemble and finish a replica once the parts are made. The materials, including the lifter, cost about $350 per drone.

2. Is this the real size of the drone?

This replica is about 1/5 scale of the real Reaper drone. The real one has a wingspan of 66 feet and the fuselage is 36 feet long. The replica has an 8’ fuselage and an 11’ wingspan.

The real Reaper is powered by a 900 horsepower turbo-prop engine made by Honeywell that can push it along at up to 230 miles an hour at an altitude of up to 45,000 feet. It can stay aloft for 30 hours with no weapons on board and up to 20 hours with a full load. The Reaper can follow you when you leave your house in the morning, staying overhead all day to see who are talking to, where you go and what you do. It can be with you all the time except when you go into a building, then it can follow you when you leave.

A drone called the Global Hawk, larger than the Reaper, can listen to your cell phone calls and read your text messages.

3. How much does the drone cost, and how many of them are there?

A Reaper drone costs $28 million; one Hellfire missile (Lockheed Martin/Raytheon) costs about $70,000; one Paveway bomb (Lockheed Martin/Raytheon) about $20,000. The total cost of one weapons load for a Reaper – four Hellfire/ two Paveway – is at least $320,000, a third of a million dollars.

US taxpayers will have invested about $11.8 billion in Reapers over the life of its program, which began in 2001 and will extend for at least several more years. The 2012 Department of Defense budget sets aside $1.069 billion for Reapers. The Air Force is believed to have about 60 Reapers with plans to build a total of about 330.