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Bush to fly on Navy plane to aircraft carrier

Chris Goidich, a parachute rigger, stands next to an F/A-18 aircraft on the USS Abraham Lincoln.
Chris Goidich, a parachute rigger, stands next to an F/A-18 aircraft on the USS Abraham Lincoln.

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ABOARD THE USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN (CNN) -- When President Bush arrives Thursday aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, he will be sitting in the co-pilot's seat of a U.S. Navy aircraft.

The plane will make what is known as a "tailhook" landing in which the craft, traveling at about 150 mph, hooks onto a steel wire across the flight deck and comes to a stop in less than 400 feet.

The Navy and White House have not disclosed what type plane Bush will use, but a senior White House aide told CNN it would be a Navy S-3B Viking, a four-seat turbofan jet that performs targeting and surveillance functions for naval carrier groups.

Bush will deliver a speech to the nation from the deck of the ship at 9 p.m. EDT Thursday to announce the end of major combat in Iraq. (Full story)

The Lincoln, en route to San Diego, has been at sea for nine months after participating in both the Afghanistan and Iraq war theaters. The president is scheduled to spend the night on the carrier, which is based in Everett, Washington, but is stopping in San Diego, California, first.

Bush will fly to Naval Air Station North Island near San Diego aboard Air Force One, before getting aboard what's being called "Navy One" for the flight to the carrier, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said Wednesday.

Bush is a former F-102 fighter pilot with the Texas Air National Guard and his father, former President George H.W. Bush, flew a combat fighter while stationed on an aircraft carrier during World War II.

Capt. Kevin Albright, commander of the Lincoln's Airwing 14, said Bush would be equipped with an air sickness bag, but he doubted the president will need it.

"I suspect [with] his previous flight experience, he'll do just fine," Albright told CNN.

Bush was an F-102 fighter pilot in the Texas Air National Guard after graduating from Yale University in 1968.

There will be two experienced pilots aboard the Navy plane. "We picked two mature pilots that also are very good landers," Albright said.

Albright said Bush could fly the plane en route to the carrier if he so desires.

"I imagine he will. He's an old fighter pilot," he said. "It shouldn't take a very long time, but I imagine if he wants to fly around a little bit, it'll take a little longer. We'll have a ready deck when he gets here."

Fleischer called it a "very exciting voyage, a very exciting trip."

"For the sake of the landing, I'm sure he will be doing no piloting," he said.

The ship's 5,500 sailors are excited about the presidential trip.

"It's a momentous occasion. I've been on eight deployments, and we've never had a president come out and welcome us home. So, it's a pretty big event for the airwing and the ship crew," Albright said.

Fleischer said the carrier would be more than 100 miles off the California coast at the time Bush addresses the nation.

"He will address the nation just as he did at the beginning of the combat," Fleischer told reporters. "He will address it now as the major combat operations have ended to mark the importance of this moment."

The address will not be a victory speech, and Fleischer said U.S. forces still face dangers from "pockets of resistance."

"It is not the legal end of hostilities," Fleischer said.

The Lincoln's flight deck spans 4.5 acres, and the ship can power enough electricity for 100,000 homes. Among the aircraft aboard the carrier is the F/A-18E Super Hornet, the Navy's sophisticated strike fighter.

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