Bouncing around in a tiny plane high over Virginia, balancing Cokes and dried-out cheese sandwiches on their laps during the final days of the fall campaign, Sen. John W. Warner and Rep. Paul S. Trible plotted strategy.

The prize that the two Republicans discussed, Warner recalls, was not the Senate seat Trible wanted to win, but something Trible wanted after Nov. 2 -- assignment to the Senate committees of his choice.

The careful planning by the ambitious Trible, who is succeeding retiring Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr., paid off this week as Republicans reorganized for the 98th Congress. Trible snagged the assignments he sought: on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

Besides his meticulous planning, Trible relied on something else that no other freshman senator this year could claim -- six years' experience as a member of Congress, and the seniority that comes with it.

"There's not much in the amenities of the Senate that he hasn't picked up," Warner noted in an interview this week. "He's a very careful understudy, a man who does his homework."

Trible was pleased Wednesday after leaving the offices of Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker, where the Republican Committee on Committees made the assignments.

On the Commerce committee, with its jurisdiction over trade and tourism, aviation, maritime activities and space technology, Trible said he would be able to influence several areas important to Virginia, including policy at Washington National and Dulles International airports.

On Banking, with its jurisdiction over financial institutions and urban and rural housing, he said he would continue his interest in economic affairs and "complement" Warner's assignments on Armed Services and Energy and Natural Resources.

There have been predictions, as an aide to one member of the delegation said, that "the Warner and Trible egos will start fighting each other right away."

Warner, who will be the state's senior senator in January, has heard the talk. "There have been these tongue-in-cheek stories (about) two strong men in the same arena and the competition will begin to surface . . . I am confident it won't happen," he said this week.

And Trible said that before anyone else in the Senate, he'd "look to John Warner" for advice. "I believe we'll be a strong partnership for Virginia."

Warner already has had several "heart-to-heart" talks with the 35-year-old Trible, filling him in on everything from this basic tenet of Senate life -- "that a senator's word to his colleagues is everything over here," -- to the finer points of Senate protocol. Trible, for instance, is unlikely to repeat the mistake Warner made on his first day in office -- throwing a kiss to Elizabeth Taylor, then his wife, in the Senate gallery after being sworn in.

For his part, Trible, who represented the Newport News area in the House, said that there have been "no surprises" as he prepares to make his move to the Senate.

"My six years in the House will prove to be great preparation," he said, adding that the major difference is that there will be more of everything.

His staff likely will double in size, his constituency will increase from about 500,000 to about 5.5 million and mail may reach 7,000 letters a week.

But as a member of a body of 100, where freshmen serve as subcommittee chairmen, Trible also said he expects to have far more influence.

Several senators said that Trible's House service will give him a leg up on the four other freshmen senators, who with Trible make up the smallest new class of senators elected since 1913. And already, the freshmen have started learning the ways of the chamber in orientation classes taught by the senators themselves.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) told the recruits they should be "reticent in seeking attention" from the national media. "You may be one of the three leading officials back in your home state," Specter said, "but in Washington you start off being one of 100."

And Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.) cautioned his new colleagues to set aside some private time for themselves in their office each day, despite the fact that "you'll hear your staff scratching at the door like a bunch of coyotes."

Friends on the Hill said they expect Trible to catch onto the new job quickly. "He's pretty sure on his feet," said Sen. William L. Armstrong (R-Colo.). "I suppose he'll make some mistakes. But I don't suppose he'll make many."