Five-year-old Aliyssa Leach flew a plane Thursday.
Well, not really. She sat in the right seat of a twin-engine turboprop plane parked at the Brownwood airport and moved the controls under the tutelage of the plane’s captain, Oscar Tortolero of San Antonio.
Aliyssa was among a group of about 30 children from the Kinder Kare Play Land in Brownwood who, with the staff, visited the the airport. In addition to meeting pilots and learning about planes, the children met Brownwood police officer Robert Lehman, representatives of the Brownwood Fire Department — including Fire Marshal Buddy Preston and his arson dog, Nika — and a crew from Heart of Texas EMS of Early.
Tortolero and his first officer, Robert Wade, are employed by Ameriflight, the company that contracts with UPS to fly parcels. The two invited children to enter the plane through its side stair-step door, and Wade talked to the children about flying as they gathered around him in the cargo area.
The children took a turn sitting in the right seat in the cockpit and pushed and pulled on the control wheel as Tortolero explained how to make the plane climb and descend. “Pulling back on the wheel makes the houses smaller, and pushing forward makes them larger,” Tortolero told the children.
Tortelero even coached the children through delivering simple messages such as “have a good flight” on the Brownwood radio frequency as other planes took off. The pilot of one departing plane radioed that he would waggle his plane’s wings at the children after lifting off.
Another pilot, Daniel Wilkinson, walked the children to his single-engine, four-seat Cessna 182, opened the doors and invited them to look inside. Wilkinson told the children about flying that plane and said he’s used it in cowboying. Wilkinson said he sometimes gets strange looks when he parks the plane and walks across the ramp carrying a saddle.
Standing next to his Chevrolet Tahoe patrol vehicle, Lehman greeted the children and told them about the equipment on his duty belt. Police want to help, not hurt people, Lehman explained as he opened the Tahoe’s doors and invited them to sit inside.
A short distance away, Preston stood with his partner and arson dog, Nika, Preston did not put on a demonstration to highlight the black labrador’s unique abilities as he of does. Children gathered around the friendly, inquisitive canine to take turns petting her.
Visits with other representatives of the fire department and the crew on a Heartland EMS ambulance rounded out the children’s airport stopover.