WASHINGTON – Navy One landed with perfect precision aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln (search) Thursday, delivering President Bush aboard the longest-deployed nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in U.S. history.
Bush also made history as the first president to land on a ship with the help of cables that stretch across the deck. The cables catch the plane and pull it to a stop in less than 300 feet.
Earlier in the day, Vice President Dick Cheney described how the landing would occur.
"He's going to fly onto the carrier and do a trap — that is, they'll catch him with cable arresting gear. No president's ever done that before. And I'm not sure he told Laura what he is going to do either," Cheney said, referring to the first lady, who did not join the president.
Thursday night will also mark the first time a president of the United States has delivered a speech aboard a moving aircraft carrier.
According to an excerpt released Thursday afternoon, the president is to say, "In this battle, we have fought for the cause of liberty, and for the peace of the world. Our nation and our coalition are proud of this accomplishment. Yet it is you, the members of the United States military, who achieved it. Your courage, your willingness to face danger for your country and for each other made this day possible."
Traveling at a clip of about 30 knots, the USS Abraham Lincoln is returning from a record-long 10-month tour, in which it served as the catapult for more than 16,500 sorties. The planes were deployed for three separate Pentagon missions — patrol of the southern no-fly zone in Iraq, operations in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq.
None of the sorties experienced any difficulties with takeoffs and landings during that time. There were no problems when members of the press headed to the ship this week ahead of the president.
However, the fast pace of the carrier in choppy waters creates a challenge for every pilot who lands onboard. The president's plane hit the deck at about 150 mph and stopped within seconds.
Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Chuck Nash told Fox News he observed that the president's aircraft kept its landing gear down after takeoff from San Diego, and suggested it was left down to make sure there were no difficulties with lowering the gear at the end of the approximately 10-minute flight.
Bush traveled via Air Force One to San Diego Thursday afternoon, then boarded Navy One, a S-3B Viking, for the jumpy ride out to the aircraft carrier. Seventeen months ago, Bush spoke aboard the USS Enterprise (search) on the 60th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks.
Any military plane carrying the president is designated "one." For instance, Marine One is the president's helicopter. Air Force One is his plane.
Navy One carried the president, a former F-102 pilot for the Texas Air National Guard, who sat in the front seat, and two or three other passengers. The distance was too long for a helicopter ride.
Administration officials insisted that the president's ride from San Diego to the ship, still hundreds of miles off the California coast, and the landing aboard the aircraft carrier, were not risky.
The president appeared excited as he joked Wednesday about the landing.
"Never can tell what's going to kick in," he said during an Oval Office meeting with the president of Colombia. "Let me just say, stay clear of the landing pattern."
Rear Adm. John Kelly, commander of the USS Abraham Lincoln battle group, told a television interviewer Thursday morning that the pilot ferrying the president onto the carrier "has flown through extraordinary pressure in support of combat operations for months now. I am very confident that he'll do a great job."
White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett said flying the jet to the carrier "is actually safer than a helicopter because you have the ability to eject. In a helicopter, if something goes wrong, you're stuck."
After his arrival, the president was scheduled to eat lunch with the crew and tour the 1,100-foot ship. Part of the tour includes an airwing viewing in which pilots in 30 FA-18 Hornets will demonstrate their skills for the president.
In the evening, the president will address the 5,000 soldiers aboard the aircraft carrier and will declare major combat operations in Iraq over. He will not declare victory in the war, hoping to avoid triggering Geneva Convention (search) rules that require the release of prisoners of war, the end of the pursuit of enemy leaders, and the designation of the United States as an occupying power once victory is declared.
But Bush will give a 20-minute speech in which he will thank the troops for their service, portray the war in Iraq as part of a larger war on terror and discuss his vision for a new kind of warfare like that ushered in during the war with Iraq.
An administration source said the speech was mostly written over the past weekend by three chief White House speechwriters. The president made "considerable and good edits," reading the speech aloud and making changes as he went along, in his usual style.
"He goes over this very carefully," the source said.
Once the president's changes were incorporated, Bush practiced the speech. The president will discuss how this marks the end of "one important phase in the war on terror."
"The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We have removed an ally of Al Qaeda, and cut off a source of terrorist funding. And this much is certain: No terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime, because that regime is no more," the president's speech reads.
Bush is set to speak to the nation at 9 p.m. EDT and spend the night on the ship, departing by helicopter before its arrival at San Diego Naval base. The USS Abraham Lincoln's home is in Everett, Wash.
Fox News' James Rosen and the Associated Press contributed to this report.