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Eyebrows raised as US spy plane makes several passes over Ireland

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The aircraft made several trips across Ireland on Tuesday Credit: Plane Finder

Questions have been raised as to why a US surveillance plane spent several hours over Ireland earlier this week.

The plane, which made seven trips across the country on Tuesday, flew over Dublin, Shannon and Cork before returning to Dublin again in a triangular formation for five hours.

The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) confirmed the flight, saying that: "A US military aircraft, with a pre-filed flight plan, operated in Irish airspace on Tuesday with approval from the Department of Foreign Affairs ."

The ‘clandestine’ flight was spotted by a Newstalk listener using the Plane Finder app,

The plane's transponder - which sends information to receivers on the ground – initially showed it to be a Boeing E6 Mercury.

This particular type of plane is used by the US Navy as an airborne command post and communications relay – mainly to convey instructions to its submarines.

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The E-3 Sentry is an airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft that provides all-weather surveillance, command, control and communications needed by commanders of U.S. and NATO air defense forces. As proven in Desert Storm, it is the premier air battle command and control aircraft in the world today. The E-3 Sentry is a modified Boeing 707/320 commercial airframe with a rotating radar dome. The dome is 30 feet (9.1 meters) in diameter, six feet (1.8 meters) thick, and is held 11 feet (3.3 meters) above the fuselage by two struts. It contains a radar subsystem that permits surveillance fromthe Earth's surface up into the stratosphere, over land or water. The radar has a range of more than 200 miles (320 kilometers) for low-flying targets and farther for aerospace vehicles flying at medium to high altitudes. The radar combined with an identification friend or foe subsystem can look down to detect, identify and track enemy and friendly low-flying aircraft by eliminating ground clutter returns that confuse other radar systems. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The E-3 Sentry is an airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft that provides all-weather surveillance, command, control and communications needed by commanders of U.S. and NATO air defense forces. As proven in Desert Storm, it is the premier air battle command and control aircraft in the world today. The E-3 Sentry is a modified Boeing 707/320 commercial airframe with a rotating radar dome. The dome is 30 feet (9.1 meters) in diameter, six feet (1.8 meters) thick, and is held 11 feet (3.3 meters) above the fuselage by two struts. It contains a radar subsystem that permits surveillance fromthe Earth's surface up into the stratosphere, over land or water. The radar has a range of more than 200 miles (320 kilometers) for low-flying targets and farther for aerospace vehicles flying at medium to high altitudes. The radar combined with an identification friend or foe subsystem can look down to detect, identify and track enemy and friendly low-flying aircraft by eliminating ground clutter returns that confuse other radar systems. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The E-3 Sentry is an airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft that provides all-weather surveillance, command, control and communications needed by commanders of U.S. and NATO air defense forces. As proven in Desert Storm, it is the premier air battle command and control aircraft in the world today. The E-3 Sentry is a modified Boeing 707/320 commercial airframe with a rotating radar dome. The dome is 30 feet (9.1 meters) in diameter, six feet (1.8 meters) thick, and is held 11 feet (3.3 meters) above the fuselage by two struts. It contains a radar subsystem that permits surveillance fromthe Earth's surface up into the stratosphere, over land or water. The radar has a range of more than 200 miles (320 kilometers) for low-flying targets and farther for aerospace vehicles flying at medium to high altitudes. The radar combined with an identification friend or foe subsystem can look down to detect, identify and track enemy and friendly low-flying aircraft by eliminating ground clutter returns that confuse other radar systems. (U.S. Air Force photo)

However, it is now believed it may have been a Boeing E3 Sentry aircraft.

Commonly known as AWACS, this aircraft is deployed by the United States Air Force and is used an all-weather surveillance, command, control and communications vehicle.

According to the IAA, the plane stayed at a constant 28,000 feet throughout its journey over Ireland.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said: "Under long-standing arrangements we permit US military aircraft to overfly Ireland without seeking prior permission provided they are unarmed, carry only cargo and comply with navigational requirements".

It is understood 13 such flight-overs took place in August.

Speaking to Newstalk Lunchtime, security analyst Dr Tom Clonan said the most likely explanation for the flight was “[Ireland has had other visitors to our airspace in recent times.

“We had Russian aircraft bombers enter our controlled airspace recently down the west coast...and in the last number of years, with the Ukraine and rising tensions in the Balkans, some of the old Cold War rhetoric has found its way back into the international foreign relations narrative".

The US embassy in Dublin added: "[Our] government is appreciative of the Irish Government's policy of granting permission on a case by case basis for the transit of US service members and aircraft  through Ireland.

"The US government appreciates and respects the conditions under which planes can utilize Irish airspace in accordance with Irish law.”

Online Editors