Chinese officials insisted that the plane be dismantled instead of repaired on the southern Chinese island of Hainan where it was forced to make an emergency landing.
U.S. officials said the operation went well and that the Chinese were helpful and cooperative.
“Things went extremely smoothly,” said Navy Cmdr. John Fleming of the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii. “It was a very well-orchestrated operation.”
The departure of the EP-3E from Hainan Island is more than a week ahead of the original July 11 target date. Twelve people from Lockheed Martin, the plane’s manufacturer, were sent to dismantle the plane two weeks ago and are expected to leave on Wednesday.
The plane will be put back together in Georgia.
More than 40 tons of parts were flown out last night in an enormous cargo plane that was contracted by the Defense Department with a Russian air cargo company. The plane touched down in the Philippines to refuel before flying to Honolulu, Hawaii today.
The damaged U.S. plane is worth $80 million, is a four-engine turboprop, about the size of a Boeing 737 commercial jet.
The completion of the dismantling brings to a close a tense episode between the United States and China.
The April collision, that killed the pilot of the Chinese jet, spawned a diplomatic standoff when China refused to release the crew of 24 Americans who landed in Hainan.
The crew was finally released after 11 days when the U.S. issued a statement saying it was “very sorry” for the death of the Chinese pilot and for the unauthorized entry into Chinese airspace for the emergency landing.