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Sunset students aim for the horizon

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Briana Sanchez gets a feel for an airplane propeller Tuesday afternoon at the Roswell International Air Center. Briana, 8, and her 6-year-old schoolmate, Fatima Guerra, got a chance to sit in the cockpit of an airplane for the first time, thanks to the Civil Air Patrol at Avflight service center. Also pictured, from left are mobility specialists Gail Melpolder, Vera Herrera and Maj. Stanley A. Nelson, deputy squadron commander. (Misty Choy Photo)

Have you ever seen inside the cockpit of an airplane? What does it mean to see? For 6-year-old Fatima Guerra and 8-year-old Briana Sanchez, both visually impaired, it means to show them and let them feel their way around.
Both Sunset Elementary School students were treated to a rare hands-on tour of the inside and outside of a Cessna 172 on Tuesday afternoon at the Roswell International Air Center.
Donny Cone, Civil Air Patrol deputy commander of cadets, lead the tour of the 1982 airplane, explaining the different parts and how they work. The students were accompanied by their orientation mobility specialists from the Roswell Independent School District, Gail Melpolder and Vera Herrera, who helped them maneuver inside and around the airplane.
Fatima and Briana were able to explore the different parts of the airplane from tip to tail, and even took turns operating the rudders. One girl would move the controls from inside the cockpit, while the other was outside at the tail feeling the rudders as they moved up and down.
The girls were very excited about the experience and shouted exclamations of, “Let’s go to Italy, let’s go to France!”
Herrera actually came up with the idea of visiting the air center and contacted Maj. Stanley A. Nelson, deputy squadron commander of the Civil Air Patrol, who assisted in the tour on Tuesday.
“We don’t usually do this type of tour for children,” Nelson said, although they’ve had some cadets come for a tour before. “We’re thinking of expanding on this idea.”
This type of plane at the Avflight service center is used in many government operations, including aerial photography, search-and-rescue missions and also can serve as a portable repeater during emergency communications.
“We don’t have many search-and-rescue missions in this area,” Nelson said, but occasionally they are called up to northern New Mexico if someone gets lost in the woods, he explained. All missions are ordained by the state police. However, Tuesday’s mission was an effort to give two young children who have never seen a plane an experience to sit in the cockpit and get a feel for piloting a plane.
“Wee!” Briana said as she climbed into the cockpit.
“I want to try!” Fatima said as she followed Briana inside to the pilot’s seat.
Projects editor Misty Choy can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 305, or at edasst@rdrnews.com.