HOUSTON (AP) _ President Bush flew here today for the funeral of C. Fred Chambers, a onetime Texas oil business associate and close friend of nearly four decades.

Bush arrived aboard Air Force One for the morning Mass at St. Michael's Catholic Church. It was to be a private service.

The president was accompanied by Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Baker's wife Susan, former Houston residents.

Chambers and Bush met in the 1950s in the oilfields of Midland, Texas, where both were beginning oil-industry careers. They continued the friendship in Houston through the 1960s and, as recently as June, Chambers and his family were guests in the White House.

Chambers died Monday at 71.

A retired Navy lieutenant, Chambers was a co-founder of CNK Petroleum. He retired from the company in 1981 but remained an active supporter of education, the arts and political campaigns.

The president had no other events scheduled in Houston and planned to return immediately to Washington.

Bush included a letter from Chambers in his 1987 autobiography ''Looking Forward.''

''We lived in the same small town, knew the same group of people, had children about the same ages and were associated by our mutual interest in the oil industry,'' Chambers wrote of his friendship with Bush. ''Somebody had a rig, someone knew of a deal, and we were all looking for funds. Oil was the thing in Midland.''

In that book, Bush related that one of his early trips to the nation's capital had been with Chambers, as the two came on ''a brisk Washington day'' in search of financial backing for a ''sure-fire producer'' well in West Texas.

They got the money, but Bush recounted, ''our sure-fire proposition didn't do as well as we'd hoped, though from a tax standpoint the investors came out ahead.''

Chambers was quoted in an August 1988 Washington Post story on Bush's early days as recalling a conversation in the late 1950s when Bush, ''out back after a tough day, ties loosened, drinking sake,'' confided that he was more interested in politics than in a lifetime career in the oil business.

In the 1970s, Bush and his wife, Barbara, named a family dog ''C. Fred'' after the friend.

Although Bush went to dozens of funerals as vice president, it is only his second as president. He recently attended the funeral of the Episcopal bishop of Washington, John Walker.