ABOARD THE USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN (AP) _ This floating airfield equipped with the Navy's most advanced combat aircraft is set to resume air patrols over Iraq after being sent back to the area while on its way home from a six-month cruise.

The nuclear-powered ``Abe'' carries the Navy's most modern fighter jets, the F-18E Super Hornet and other fighters, which screamed off the deck Tuesday.

However, weather limited the flights to short training and qualifying missions, rather than the planned patrols of Iraq's southern no-fly zone. The exclusion zone was established after the 1991 Gulf War to protect Iraqi Shiites from Saddam Hussein's forces.

The eight ships of the Lincoln battle group joined a similar group formed around the aircraft carrier USS Constellation in the Persian Gulf as part of a buildup in preparation for a possible war with Iraq. Both groups will monitor the southern no-fly zone.

Despite nearly seven months into a tour that was supposed to last six months, pilots aboard this Nimitz class carrier say they are ready to join an assault on Iraq if the order comes from Washington.

``The Navy does not take lightly extending the deployment of an aircraft carriers,'' said Cmdr. Dale Horan, executive officer of the fighter squadron VFA 115 Eagles, one of several fighter, helicopter and other aircraft units that are aboard.

He acknowledged that the length of the tour, and separation from family, wears on most of the 5,800-member crew.

``You overcome it because you have a mission to do,'' said Horan, 39, of Lemoore, Calif. ``We are really very good at what we do.''

The USS Abraham Lincoln, which was commissioned in 1989, has about 70 aircraft aboard, including the Super Hornets, F-14 Tomcat fighters, E-2C Hawkeye surveillance aircraft, EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare jets, and well as helicopters and anti-submarine jets.

The ship left its home port of Everett, Wash., on July 20. After a tour that included duty patrolling the southernmost areas of Iraqi air space, it sailed for home Dec. 14 with a stop in Australia. However, the ship then was ordered back to the region, arriving at its current patrol area at an undisclosed area of the northern Gulf.

Despite the length of deployment, Super Hornet pilot Lt. Dewaine Barnes, 28, said, ``My feeling is, and I can speak for all the pilots, is that we are ready for any contingency mission ordered by the president of the United States.''

He said the Super Hornets he flies are bigger and can carry more weapons and fuel than the earlier Hornets that are still in use.

``It's the Navy's newest hottest thing on the block. It's like the new sports car everyone wants,'' said Barnes, who asked that his home town not be published.