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USA TODAY May 02, 2003

Jet co-pilot Bush: 'Yes, I flew it!'

By John Ritter

ABOARD USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN -- Cmdr. John "Skip" Lussier, with his boss in the co-pilot's seat, brought his S-3B Viking jet in for a landing on the flight deck of this carrier as it cruised home to San Diego.

A hook hanging from the jet's belly snagged a fourth and final cable stretched across the carrier's deck. The jet screeched to a stop and out jumped Lussier's co-pilot and boss -- President Bush. It was the first time a president had landed on an carrier in such a way, historians said. Bush took off from San Diego for the 30-mile trip to the carrier.

"Yes, I flew it!" Bush shouted to reporters on the flight deck as he emerged from the aircraft. "Of course I liked it!"

Landing at 125 mph and stopping within 350 feet subjected the president and crew to twice the force of gravity, or two Gs. But nothing moved the president, a former National Guard pilot, more than flying the Navy jet for a few moments.

Equally delighted were the Lincoln's crewmembers. The ship has been at sea for 91/2 months and has launched missions over Afghanistan and Iraq. It was 30 miles from its home port in San Diego when the president landed.

A banner strung across the bridge of the ship exclaimed, "Mission Accomplished."

On the flight deck, pilots and crew mobbed the president.

"Shaking his hand is one of the best experiences I'll ever have," said Cmdr. Diego Corral, a native of Ecuador who is the aircraft carrier's safety officer.

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The jet that delivered the president

The jet that flew President Bush to the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln on Thursday was a S-3B Viking. The Viking's primary mission is coordinating attacks on ships or submarines threatening the carrier and its battle group. It can deliver a variety of laser-guided missiles, rockets, conventional bombs and torpedoes.

Top speed: 518 mph
Flight ceiling: 40,000 feet
Range: 2,645 miles
Cost: $ 27 million
Crew: 2 to 4, depending upon mission
Other missions: It can provide surveillance for search-and-rescue missions. It can refuel naval combat jets flying attack missions. A Viking flew an inland attack mission for the first time on March 25 when it was sent to attack a target on the Tigris River near Basra, Iraq.

GRAPHIC: PHOTO, Color, Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY; GRAPHIC, Color, Bob Laird, USA TODAY, Sources: U.S. Navy, GlobalSecurity.org. Federation of American Scientists (ILLUSTRATION); After landing: President Bush shakes hands with the pilot, Cmdr. John Lussier. Bush is the first president to land on an aircraft carrier by jet.


Copyright 2003, Gannett Company, Inc.