The Mysterious Case of the Vanishing Airport

Monday, 9th March 2009 by

This is Naval Air Station Sigonella, a U.S. Navy installation in Sicily, Italy, as seen in this image on Google Earth that was originally captured on June 27th, 2006.

This next image of exactly the same area is from Microsoft Live Maps, and far from simply being a much older image taken before the facility was built, this was actually captured in 2007...

Thanks to widespread coverage, many people are now familiar with the idea that "sensitive" areas of our planet are being hidden from view in the images that online mapping services display.

It's also commonly understood that the images are usually altered by the company who originally took them (rather than Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, or any other buyer), allowing them to remain in line with their local laws and regulations.

Such areas include military installations, government buildings, and airports - but the point is usually simply to prevent people from viewing the exact details of the site, rather than attempting to deny their very existence.

Last year we saw some imagery in the Netherlands had been altered in a more dramatic way - drawing the ridicule of the Photoshop Disasters blog in the process - which in turn led to even wider recognition of the attempted cover up.

Well, it seems that the companies engaged in these activities have been paying attention, because closer examination of the supposed location of NAS Sigonella reveals that while there are clearly artificial repetitions of parts of the image, the overall result is by far the best Photoshop job we've seen on either MS Live or Google Maps.

Unfortunately, to the west of the site we can still see part of a runway that our inexperienced Photoshopper neglected to cover up - so there's definitely still room for improvement.1

So is this the start of a new trend? Will satellite and aerial photography companies now need to employ full time digital artists to hide things the governments don't want you to see? Or is this just another example of Microsoft attempting to up the ante against Google?

Read more about NAS Sigonella at Wikipedia.

Thanks to Al Cohole.

  1. TerraItaly are the company responsible, and this isn't their first failed cover-up job. ↩︎