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Aired January 10, 2002 - 11:09   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Want to let you know about some breaking news that we're following here. The Associated Press is reporting a military plane crash in New Jersey. State police in New Jersey telling the Associated Press that this military plane has crashed near the Garden State Parkway.

It happened near the Little Egg Harbor Township. No word on injuries or fatalities. We will continue to track that. A military plane crashing in New Jersey.

Let's move on the Pentagon.

Barbara Starr, you were going to plan on reporting on something else. I don't imagine that you have news about this military plane. Don't mean to ambush you here, but, just want to give you a chance to get any two cents, if you happen to know about it.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: No, Daryn. In fact, that word just broke a couple of moments ago. And the Air Force here in the Pentagon is trying to get more information on that at this time.

However, what we are learning here today is that the U.S. military involvement in the war on terrorism has now expanded to another country. This time, the Philippines. Military officials are now confirming that 25 U.S. special forces soldiers are in the southern Philippines. They are part of advanced effort for a much broader effort in the Philippines.

The eventual U.S. deployment, we are told, could grow to 500. We are further told, their job will be to provide training and assistance to the Philippine military in their effort to hunt down Muslim guerrillas who are tied to the al Qaeda.

Now, so far, the U.S. mission is simply training and assistance. However, that could change in the weeks and months ahead. The initial deployment will be special forces. It will involve things like C-130 aircraft helicopters, things like that, to help the Philippine military move around their own country with greater ease, with greater mobility.

But most importantly, these U.S. special forces are going to provide training to the Philippine military in counterterrorism and how to go out into the jungles and the remote areas and hunt down guerrillas tied to the al Qaeda in their own country.

All of this, we are told, is part of a post-September 11th agreement with the Philippines. A $4.2 billion military assistance package, and so now those first U.S. special forces -- those first commandos are on the ground in the Philippines, we are told today. Daryn?

KAGAN: Barb, what can you tell us about the investigation into the crash of C-130, where seven Marines lost their lives yesterday.

STARR: Right. That's moving ahead as well. Yesterday, an initial team made their way to the site. But it was very mountainous terrain, and they had to turn back. Now, a more fully-equipped mortuary and investigatory team on their way to the site. They're going to try and find out what happened and start recovering some of the bodies, Daryn?

KAGAN: All right. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. We're going to cut you loose, see if you may even go and find more information about that military plane crash in New Jersey. At the Pentagon. Thank you very much.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Meanwhile, we're tracking that story from here as well. Once again, letting you know that Associated Press is reporting that a military plane has crashed in the state of New Jersey. We understand that it's an F-16. We have those pictures ready to go to show you, just some information about the F-16. Supersonic. Range 2,400 miles. Use with air-to-air combat and air- to-surface attack munitions. We understand a plane just like this has crashed in Little Egg Harbor Township in New Jersey. No word of injuries or any fatalities or perhaps what might have caused that accident.

We'll continue to track that story out of New Jersey and learn more. Right now, we'll fit in a quick break and be back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

STARR: This plane was on a routine training mission when it crashed at the Warren Grove Bombing Range in the Atlantic City general area. These F-16s do conduct the combat air patrol that has been going on since September 11th over Washington, D.C. and New York City.

But we are told that it was not on a air patrol mission when this incident happened. That it was, in fact, on a routine training mission. We do expect a briefing from the National Guard unit up in Atlantic City later today. But the initial word here at the Pentagon is that the pilot did eject safely before his plane crashed on this routine training mission in New Jersey. Daryn?

KAGAN: Good news. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Thank you.

Let's bring in our Miles O'Brien, who is in the Mojave Desert for a completely different story. But, Miles, we like call on you for your aviation expertise. F-16. What can you tell us about that? Is that the kind of plane that only just the pilot flies in with no passenger?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, the F-16, generally, is a single-seat aircraft. There are some two-seat versions. I've had an opportunity to fly the two-seat version, which is essentially a trainer aircraft, to allow a second person to go on board and be instructed.

It's a single-engine aircraft. It's called the electric jet, if you will, because it is a fly-by-wire system. It's not a system of actuators, pulleys and hydraulics. It's actually a computer -- a computer control that sends electrical impulses, which actually controls the surfaces of the aircraft.

As I said, a key point in here that it's a single-engine aircraft. Another key point to bring out here is that all U.S. fighters, the F-15 and the F-16 are equipped with a very sophisticated ejection seat, which has saved the lives of countless pilots over the years.

Among them, is the man standing right beside me, Dick Ruttan. A legendary test pilot. The man who flew around the world unrefueled, nonstop back in 1986 and has some time in F-16s. We're here, he's about to do a test flight in this rocket behind us, this thing called the "Easy Rocket." We're going to tell you a little bit more about that in just a moment.

But, Dick, I just want to ask you, you've ejected twice from fighters. Just take us through that scenario.

DICK RUTTAN, TEST PILOT: Well, the F-16 has an excellent ejection system -- it's called the Aces-II, and they work well. And I have ejected twice from two F-100s. Once in combat and once in a Cold War mission in England. And when you're jet is in trouble, you pull the ejection handle, it's the sweetest ride you'll ever have in your life. And I hope that -- I don't know the circumstances here -- but I sure I hope they got out okay.

O'BRIEN: Tell about the F-16. You've had an opportunity to fly it a few times. Give us your sense of it.

RUTTAN: The F-16 compared to the Century Series fighters that we flew back in Vietnam days, it's an incredible airplane. It's all electronic. It's all computerized. It's virtually impossible to mess up. And it's a very agile airplane, probably the best air-to-air, close-in combat fighter that was ever built. And it's quite an airplane. Very impressive, and it's got a long, excellent history.

O'BRIEN: As I understand it, the F-16 is a jet that is capable of withstanding nine gees, which is to say, nine times the weight of gravity. Probably more than the pilot can really handle for any lenght of time. I've had an opportunity to pull nine gees. It's obviously a very hardy jet. Is it a difficult one to fly? Is it at the edge of the envelope, if you will? RUTTAN: Not really, because the computer keeps you out of trouble. The computer lets you take it to the very limit of its capability. So even the weakest pilot in the squadron can be the top gun. He can fly it right through its maximum capability. That increased the lethality of the airplane dramatically.

O'BRIEN: Now there are some pilots who -- it's kind of controversial that the computer, kind of, is in between the stick and the controls. Some pilots would like to be able to override the computer. Does that come to play at all?

RUTTAN: Well, not in the F-16. Because the airplane will only handle so much at any given speed. And to be able to go, right there, to corner instantaneously to achieve the maximum capability of the airplane is an incredible combat advantage to that airplane.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you this. Now the idea on the F-16 was to make it simple and light and agile. Single-engine, is that inherently -- I mean, there's no redundancy there obviously. There have been crashes over the years where F-16s have planed out, lost their engines. Does that make it more dangerous jet to fly?

RUTTAN: We'll you're talking to a single-seat, single-engine fighter pilot. I think that if you have more than one seat and more than one engine, you're not really a fighter pilot. And I -- correct me, I could be wrong, but the statistics around when I was flying them, is that the twin-engine airplanes had actually more problems than the single-engine airplanes, because there's just twice as many things to go wrong.

O'BRIEN: That's an interesting point. Walk us through the decision to eject. And we don't know in this case, if the pilot had has the opportunity to eject. But it's obviously a decision of last resort. Is there almost a checklist you go through before you pull that lever?

RUTTAN: No. There's a lot of things that fighter pilots learn by rote, by instinct, by memorization that happens instinctively. And people have always asked me, says, "How do you make a decision to actually pull the handle and eject?" I says, "In my two cases, the decision was very obvious. Because on one of them, I was right near the ground on landing and the engine blew up, and I had just a couple of seconds to make the decision to get out. The parachute opened, it swung once and went into the trees. And the other one was riding a burning airplane out of north Vietnam, so the decision to eject out of that one was real easy too.

O'BRIEN: All right. Dick Ruttan, a man who's ejected twice from fighter aircraft, had some time on the F-16, and, who, in just a few moments will be testing this experimental "Easy Rocket." A little more on that later. For now, we'll send it back to you, Daryn, in Atlanta.

KAGAN: Miles, thank you very much. We do look forward to hearing more from you and Dick Ruttan. And how convenient just to have and F-16 fighter pilot or former fighter pilot with you there. We do want to let you know. Miles wasn't aware, but, indeed, we have received word that the pilot was able to eject and that he is going to be okay.

And one of our affiliates has a helicopter on the way to the crash site, and we're working on getting the first pictures back. There you see, on the way to crash site, in New Jersey, where this F- 16 crashed. The pilot apparently ejecting safely. More on that and more pictures right ahead. Right now a quick break.

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