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 Princess Kate put her flying skills to the test in a simulator

Kate tries out a life jacket at royal naval air station
Danielle Stacey
Danielle StaceyOnline Royal CorrespondentLondon
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The Princess of Wales was given quite the shock when a lifejacket she was wearing suddenly inflated during a visit to the Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Yeovilton in Somerset on Monday.

Kate's visit comes just weeks after the King announced her appointment as Commodore-in-Chief of the Fleet Air Arm (FAA).

King Charles famously went to the air station for helicopter flying training in 1974.

During her public outing, she was shown around the air station where she spent time in the traffic control tower to meet staff and speak to an airborne Wildcat helicopter crew.

As her first port of call, the Princess conducted training exercises in a hangar with survival equipment technicians, who allow aircrew to operate safely. And there was a lighthearted moment as Kate burst into fits of giggles as she inflated a lifejacket. 

Kate Middleton inflates life jacket© Getty
Kate braces herself!

Louise Evans-Hughes, a leading survival equipment technician, later said of the moment: “I told the princess there might be a bit of a bang because sometimes when the Velcro rips open there is a bit of a noise.

“I think that was why she was a bit apprehensive to pull it. As soon as she pulled it, it inflated.

“I gave the princess the option whether she wanted to put it on or whether one of my colleagues would put it on.

“I didn’t know if she would or not, but it was really nice that she got hands-on and got really engaged in what we do and making the kit work.”

Kate Middleton speaks with Survival equipment technicians at air base© Getty
The Princess speaks with Survival equipment technicians

Describing the royal's reaction, Louise added: "I see it a lot when we train the air crew pilots so it’s something that I see all the time so I knew what was going to happen and it was quite nice to watch her face.

"I think afterwards she said it was quite snug and didn’t realise how big it was going to go and I quickly let some air out so she wouldn’t be uncomfortable."

The 32-year-old servicewoman, who is originally from Bath, said Kate is the first member of the royal family she has met.

Kate speaking with leading survival equipment technician Louise Evans-Hughes© Getty
Kate speaking with leading survival equipment technician Louise Evans-Hughes

"The Princess was really engaged, really excited and asking loads of questions, which is quite nice," she said.

"[I] Think, for me, every day that you become a bit immune to what you do. It’s nice to be remembered and some of the things that you’re doing.”

She said she did not have any nerves until seconds before she was introduced to Kate.

"It sort of just hit me. I was thinking about saying 'Good morning, Ma'am' but she was just so engaging and lovely, as soon as she started talking to me I was really put at ease."

Kate Middleton's visit to RNAS Yeovilton© Getty
Kate visits Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Yeovilton

Kate later sat inside a Merlin Mk4 helicopter, deployed by the Royal Marines globally to provide disaster relief, as well as a Merlin MK2, which is used to hunt for submarines.

She also tried her hand at flying a Wildcat MK2 in a simulator, which allows aircrew to practice flying over land or on to ships.

The maritime attack helicopter is designed to operate from the frigates and destroyers of the Royal Navy.

The Princess of Wales sits inside the cockpit of a Merlin Mk2 helicopter© Getty
The Princess sits inside the cockpit of a Merlin Mk2 helicopter

 Danielle Beckinsale, 20, an engineer in the 845 squadron at the base who helps maintain and service the aircraft, joined Kate in the cockpit of the aircraft and explained her work. 

She said: "We’re not on the frontline, but she was intrigued as to what us engineers do to keep the squadron up and keep the Merlin serviceable.

"It felt like a privilege to be selected to meet her. I actually got asked to meet her because I was the only female engineer [in the squadron] and she actually wanted to meet a female engineer."

Kate Middleton talks to air traffic control© Getty
Kate in the air traffic control tower

During her engagement, Kate also made a sweet reference to her children, Prince George, ten, Princess Charlotte, eight, and Prince Louis, five, suggesting to staff they would have loved to come and see the airbase with her.

She told the air traffic controllers that her children were "excited" about her visit to the air base and told her: "I can't believe you’re going there!"

More than 4,000 personnel are employed on the site, which is home to a number of frontline squadrons and training units.

Kate Middleton visits Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton© Getty
Kate opted for a smart business look in a Holland Cooper blazer

Captain Duncan Thomas, RNAS Yeovilton’s commanding officer, said afterwards: "I am delighted and privileged to have welcomed the Princess of Wales to the Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton, at the start of what I am sure will be a long and rewarding relationship in her capacity as Commodore-in-Chief of the Fleet Air Arm.

"We’ve all been hugely excited by this opportunity and I am delighted that Her Royal Highness will be able to support and inspire our exceptionally talented sailors, air crew and wider workforce family for years to come."

Meanwhile, the Prince of Wales will begin his two-day visit to New York on Monday, 18 September 2023, where he will attend the Earthshot Prize Innovation Summit.

Prince William will address delegates alongside other speakers including former New York mayor and business news mogul Mike Bloomberg, a global adviser to Earthshot Prize winners, Dame Jacinda Ardern, Earthshot trustee former New Zealand prime minister, and Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft.

Memorable occasions UK royals have visited the US

Prince William and Kate arrive at the 2011 BAFTA Brits To Watch Event in Los Angeles, California© Getty

Over the past century, the British royal family have made several official visits Stateside. Here are some of the most notable trips:

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (1939)

King George VI made history in June 1939 when he became the first reigning British monarch to visit the US. Accompanied by his wife, the Queen Mother, the trip was intended to strengthen ties between the UK and the US before the Second World War.

Queen Elizabeth II (1957)

The late Queen's first official visit to the US took place in 1957 and solidified the "special relationship" between the two countries. The monarch emphasized this bond in her speech to Congress, whilst another highlight was also visiting Jamestown to celebrate the 350th anniversary of its founding.

Princess Diana (1985)

Princess Diana's 1985 visit was her first solo tour without her husband Prince Charles. The People's Princess charmed the American public, with the trip reflecting her personal interests in fighting homelessness, supporting the arts, and advocating for AIDS patients.

The Prince and Princess of Wales (2014)

While William and Kate visited the US as part of their first overseas tour as a married couple in 2011, their 2014 trip to New York City and Washington DC was also very memorable. The royals paid a solemn visit to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, and also met with President Barack Obama at the White House.

The future King is set to travel to Singapore for the third Earthshot Prize Awards ceremony on 7 November. However, The Telegraph has reported that the Princess will not join her husband on the trip.

Listen to HELLO!'s A Right Royal Podcast and find out the real reason why King Charles stopped piloting planes...

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