Excited shouts of "it's coming, it's coming" went up from a crowd of students at Whitney Avenue Elementary School as a Sacramento County sheriff's helicopter came in for a landing onto the baseball field.
"It's cool," said second-grader Hevekiah Hall, 7, who peered into the cockpit of the aircraft, dubbed Star VIII. "I just want to get on it and ride it."
Hall was among 360 students who got a chance Thursday to take a close-up look at the Eurocopter EC 120 with the Sacramento County Sheriff's Air Operations Bureau, and ask questions of the pilot, Deputy Fred Links.
The helicopter visit was organized by the nonprofit Sheriff's Community Impact Program, or SCIP, and funded by a grant from Kaiser Permanente. SCIP works with six elementary schools in the Arden Arcade area, and organizes different kinds of activities for students, ranging from sports to reading programs on campus.
"It's part of the sheriff's plan to reduce juvenile delinquency in Sacramento County," said Deputy Mike Saigeon, who founded SCIP two years ago. "We want to reduce violence in the county and discourage kids from getting into gangs."
The helicopter has visited other schools before, but this was the first time for Whitney Avenue Elementary School.
Shortly before 11:30 a.m., all the students were led out from their classrooms, starting with the kindergarteners, and instructed to sit in neat rows on the grass near the jungle gym to watch the landing. A number of the older students crowded around a planter or perched on the edges of the playground.
But after Links got out of the cockpit, school principal Vincent Arias asked that only the kindergarten students remain. The other students were to return to class and check out the helicopter during their lunch break.
Most of the kids wanted to climb up into the cockpit and explore but Links demurred. "There are a lot of things in there that can get broken," he told them. "Then how am I going to go home?"
A number of boys were touching different parts of the aircraft - such as the line cutter that protects against hitting wires, and various antennas - and asking questions about them.
Matthew Gonzales, 8, a second-grader, pointed to a large device attached to the underside of the Star VIII. "What is that?"
"That's a camera," said Links. "Don't touch it."
Others wanted to know how to operate things.
"How do you turn on the light?" asked Daniel Jones, 7, a first-grader who was intrigued by the large spotlight attached to the left side of the helicopter.
Links pulled out a device with various levers on it, which Jones promptly started to pull. "It doesn't work right now because it's not on, but I can make the light go up and down and even get it down to a pinpoint," said the pilot. "Isn't that cool?"
Andrea Mata, 9, had an unusual request of Links: she wanted to see how her stuffed animals - Monkey, Horsey, Buddy the white seal, and Teeger, the white leopard - would look "wearing" Links' helmet. He obliged, retrieving the helmet from the seat, and stuck each toy under the headpiece, and waving it around.
"I thought it would look funny," she said afterward.
Maya Lopez , 11, a fifth-grader and Alysa Morales, 11, a fourth-grader, posed in front of the nose of the helicopter, while Maya took a photo of the two on her cellphone.
"It just looks pretty cool," said Lopez. "It's pretty big," added Morales.
Links, who has been a deputy for 33 years, and a pilot for seven years, enjoys the visits.
"This is the third school that we've done this year," he said. "The students are great. We establish a kind of bond."
He likes changing attitudes of the students, who often assume that the helicopter is used to catch criminals. "I tell them that I also look for lost kids," he said.
Call The Bee's Tillie Fong, (916) 321-1006.