US Homeland Security P-3 AEW surveillance plane at PDX

Multnomah County

The aircraft, also known as an AWACS, was sitting on the General Aviation ramp on Thursday

A P-3 Airborne Early Warning (AEW) detection and monitoring aircraft operated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security at Portland International Airport, July 22, 2020. (Courtesy of Zac B)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) ā€” A large surveillance aircraft operated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was spotted at Portland International Airport, KOIN 6 News learned Thursday.

A public information officer for PDX confirmed a P-3 Airborne Early Warning (AEW) detection and monitoring aircraft was sitting on the General Aviation ramp on Thursday morning. However, the plane was not there on Friday afternoon.

Photos shared with KOIN 6 News appear to show a DHS seal on the aircraft’s tail.

The aircraft, also known as an AWACS, has various uses by the federal government, including as a “force multiplier in joint operations with local, state, and federal partners for National Special Security Events and consequence management efforts,” according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.

The CBP said P-3 AEWs were used in 2016 to help with 145 different drug busts resulting in the seizure of over 193,000 pounds of cocaine in Texas and Florida.

In a November 2014 release, CBP said the “P-3s patrol in a 42 million-square mile area known as the Source and Transit Zone, which includes more than 41 nations, the Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, and seaboard approaches to the United States.”

“The P-3sā€™ distinctive detection capabilities allow highly-trained crews to identify threats well beyond the land borders of the United States. By providing surveillance of known air, land and maritime smuggling routes in an area that is almost 14 times the size of the continental United States, the P-3s detect, monitor and disrupt smuggling activities before they reach our shores,” the release said.

Tom Young, a longtime pilot and air safety advocate, told KOIN 6 News this aircraft is normally used offshore in drug interdiction.

“I quite frankly don’t know exactly how that mission would tie in with what’s going on in downtown, if that’s even why it’s here,” he said.

The P3 has the capability of picking things up on radar but “I would be relatively certain they also have the capability of doing electronic intercepts with that airplane whether that’s phone or whatever kind of radio communication.”

Young said he’s seen these planes in the San Juan Islands often, but not around here.

“It’s a little surprising to see it here and I don’t know what it relates to.”

KOIN 6 News has reached out to DHS and has not received a reply.

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