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AMERICAN MORNING

President Bush's Pilot

Aired May 2, 2003 - 07:51   ET

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

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: OK, here's the question: What is it like to have the commander-in-chief riding shotgun?
Navy pilot John Lussier had a once-in-a-lifetime experience yesterday, executing a textbook "tailhook" landing on board the aircraft carrier, Abraham Lincoln, with President Bush in the co- pilot's seat. Commander Lussier and also Lieutenant Ryan Phillips, who was also in the plane and a crewmember, join us live from North Island in San Diego.

Welcome, gentlemen.

CMDR. JOHN LUSSIER, U.S. NAVY PILOT: Good morning.

LT. RYAN PHILLIPS, U.S. NAVY: Good morning.

COSTELLO: Commander Lussier, how many pictures did you take?

LUSSIER: I'm sorry, say again?

COSTELLO: How many pictures did you take?

LUSSIER: Oh, my gosh. More pictures than my wedding, that's for sure.

COSTELLO: And, Lieutenant Phillips, I expect you have a great big scrapbook now, too?

PHILLIPS: Oh, absolutely. I actually had a camera in the plane and got a few snapshots just for my personal use, but I got some great pictures.

COSTELLO: Oh, that's terrific. OK, so, guys, how did you get chosen for this mission?

LUSSIER: Well, we were very fortunate. Our commanding officer, Greg Looney (ph), picked us. He has faith and confidence in our abilities, and we were the lucky ones, that was for sure.

COSTELLO: Confidence in your abilities.

LUSSIER: Well, you know, we proved ourselves over a 10-month deployment, and he wanted to make sure that the president was taken care of. So, he picked the four crewmembers to fly the chief of-staff and the president, and made sure that we were doing a good job, all of the crew. So, it was kind of a reward for us.

COSTELLO: So, Commander, how much pressure did you feel?

LUSSIER: I didn't feel a whole lot of pressure until I started watching CNN in the morning, and then there was just a little too much coverage for me. So, I had to tune it out.

COSTELLO: I can't say that I blame you. But you had, like, the commander of the free world right there beside you. You're responsible for his safety solely. I can't imagine feeling that kind of pressure.

LUSSIER: Again, when Ryan and I were talking about it, this was a mission, we wanted to have him have an enjoyable flight, make it safe and not think about the fact that the leader of the free world was right next door to us here.

COSTELLO: OK, so let me ask you this question: At what point did President Bush take control of the plane?

LUSSIER: Well, we talked about it in a brief, and I knew that he was just excited to be back in the cockpit. So, as soon as we got airborne, I offered the controls to him, and he took us up to 6,000 feet, leveled off. We flew for a while, and then we did a lead change with our playmate there, and he flew a little formation and then gave it back to me to bring it in for the landing. He wasn't quite ready for that part.

COSTELLO: No, I wouldn't think so.

I want to read you something Ari Fleischer said. He said: "I think the best clue, you know, if the president is actually flying the plane will be to see if the plane is flying on a straight line, you'll know that the Navy pilot is in charge. If it does anything else, it's an open question."

So, did President Bush fly in a straight line?

LUSSIER: He did fly in a straight line, and he flew at a level one, too.

COSTELLO: Did he need that bag?

PHILLIPS: Well, Carol, one...

COSTELLO: Go ahead.

PHILLIPS: Carol, one thing that our playmate said is -- he was flying off our wing the whole time. He said about halfway through the flight, the jet really steadied out and flew real well, so he thought that that was the point that the president must have had the controls.

COSTELLO: That's good. I have to ask you this last question, because I knew you had an air bag on board. Did the president or the Secret Service agent on board need it?

LUSSIER: An air bag? You mean an air sickness bag?

COSTELLO: Yes.

LUSSIER: Oh, no. They didn't need it at all. I think the president was fully acclimated, and the Secret Service agent just was along for the ride, and was so concerned about the safety of the president he didn't have to feel about being air sick at all.

COSTELLO: He was nervous. The president just did look a little wobbly when he came off the plane, though.

LUSSIER: Ah, he's a stud. It was a great flight.

COSTELLO: "He's a stud," I like that. Thanks to you both, Commander John Lussier and Lieutenant Ryan Phillips, for joining us this morning.

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