WASHINGTON – President Bush's Navy jet was flying at more than 125 mph when it touched down on the USS Abraham Lincoln (search), snagged a cable stretched across the flight deck and screeched to a stop.
Military historians said they thought it was the first time a president (search) had landed on a carrier in such a way. Usually they fly by helicopter.
Bush (search) emerged from the plane, cradling his helmet under his arm and beaming from the trip, which apparently gave him a chance at the controls. "Yes I flew it!" Bush shouted to reporters on the flight deck. He said he piloted about a third of the way, flying "straight ahead."
Bush lingered on deck, shook hands and posed for photos. He pointed a thumb toward the pilots in a tribute to "these heroes."
Bush sat in the copilot's seat of the snub-nosed S-3B Viking, a four-seater that's just 53 feet long, for the 30-mile trip Thursday from San Diego, Calif., to the aircraft carrier. His pilot was Navy Cmdr. John Lussier of Orlando, Fla. Emblazoned under the windshield were the words, "George W. Bush, Commander-in-chief."
The carrier was about 30 miles off the Pacific coast, on its way back from the war in Iraq, when Bush landed at 12:16 p.m. local time. A massive banner strung across the bridge of the ship exclaimed "Mission Accomplished."
About five minutes before Bush's plane touched down, a loudspeaker announced to hundreds of people on the deck: "From the stern, Navy One."
The president, who trained as a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard, flew cross-country on Air Force One (search), exchanged his suit and tie for a flight suit in California, got a refresher course on ejections and then climbed into the S-3B.
On the landing, a tailhook on the back of the plane caught the last of four steel arresting cables stretched across the moving carrier. The cables stop the aircraft within 350 feet, subjecting passengers to twice the force of gravity, or two G's. Ideally planes are caught by the second cable. However, aircraft always come in at full power and if they miss all the cables, they fly right back off the other side of the deck and try again.
The USS Abraham Lincoln has been deployed for more than nine months. Its aircraft, including the S-3B Vikings, have flown more than 16,500 sorties and have made 12,700 takeoffs and landings without incident, said Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Danny Hernandez. The S-3Bs find and attack ships and submarines and are sent on surveillance and refueling missions.