How a U.S. Spy Plane Works

Listening In

Military officials have likened the EP-3E to a vacuum cleaner in the sky that uses state-of-the-art equipment to suck up electronic communications, including telephone calls, e-mail, ship-to-shore relays, faxes and satellite transmissions. Basically, the surveillance plane’s main task is to eavesdrop on targeted areas, process the findings and send the information to American military commanders.

Photo courtesy
The EP-3E spy plane is the ears of U.S. surveillance operations.

The EP-3E is equipped with some of the most advanced surveillance equipment in the world. Most of the plane’s systems are classified, but there is some information known about the surveillance equipment.

Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Defense
A radome is attached to the spy plane's underbelly.

The plane is equipped with sensors, receivers and dish antennas to capture electronic signals. There are two compartments, one on the top and one on the bottom of the plane, that house antennas. The EP-3E is also equipped with an AN/APX-134 radar antenna and a radome, which are located in a specially-modified cargo bay, according to The radome is a dome-like shell underneath the plane. It houses the radar antenna and is transparent to radio-frequency radiation.