The Princess of Wales had an unexpected surprise when her lifejacket suddenly inflated during her visit to the Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Yeovilton in Somerset on Monday. This visit occurred shortly after her appointment as Commodore-in-Chief of the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) by King Charles. King Charles himself had undergone helicopter flying training at the same air station in 1974.
During her public appearance, the Princess toured the air station, including the traffic control tower, where she met with the staff and conversed with a Wildcat helicopter crew. She began her visit with training exercises in a hangar alongside survival equipment technicians who ensure aircrew safety. An amusing moment ensued when Kate couldn't contain her laughter while inflating a lifejacket.
Louise Evans-Hughes, a prominent survival equipment technician, later commented on the incident, stating, “I informed the princess that there might be a slight noise when the Velcro is opened, as it can make a sound. I believe this made her a bit hesitant to pull it. However, as soon as she did, the lifejacket inflated.”
She also added, “I offered the princess the choice of whether she wanted to put it on herself or if one of my colleagues could assist her. I wasn't sure what she would decide, but it was truly pleasant to see her actively involved and genuinely interested in our work, ensuring the equipment functions properly.”
Louise also described the reaction of the royal during the incident, saying, “I often observe this reaction when we train aircrew pilots, so it's a familiar occurrence for me. I anticipated what would happen, and it was enjoyable to see her facial expression.”
She continued, “I believe she mentioned afterward that the lifejacket felt quite snug, and she hadn't expected it to inflate so much. I promptly released some air to ensure her comfort.”
Louise, a 32-year-old servicewoman originally from Bath, mentioned that Kate is the first member of the royal family she has ever encountered.
“She was genuinely engaged, very enthusiastic, and posed numerous inquiries, which was a pleasant experience,” she remarked.
She further mentioned, “I believe that, in one's daily routine, there can be a tendency to become somewhat desensitized to the work we do. It's heartening to be appreciated and acknowledged for the tasks we carry out.”
Regarding her nerves, she admitted, “I didn't feel any nervousness until just moments before meeting Kate. It suddenly hit me. I had contemplated saying ‘Good morning, Ma'am,' but she was so approachable and delightful that as soon as she initiated the conversation with me, I felt completely at ease.”
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.
Danielle Beckinsale, aged 20, who serves as an engineer in the 845 squadron stationed at the base and is responsible for aircraft maintenance and servicing, accompanied Kate in the aircraft's cockpit and elaborated on her responsibilities.
She remarked, “While we're not directly involved in frontline operations, the princess displayed a genuine interest in understanding the role of engineers like us in maintaining the squadron's readiness and ensuring the Merlin aircraft remain in operational condition.”
She also added, “It was a special experience to have been chosen to meet her. I was actually selected because I am the sole female engineer within the squadron, and she specifically expressed a desire to meet a female engineer.”
In the course of her visit, Kate made a warm mention of her children, Prince George (aged ten), Princess Charlotte (aged eight), and Prince Louis (aged five), indicating to the staff that her kids would have been thrilled to accompany her on the visit to the airbase.
She shared with the air traffic controllers that her children were “enthusiastic” about her trip to the airbase and exclaimed, “I can't believe you're going there!”
The airbase, which accommodates numerous frontline squadrons and training units, employs more than 4,000 personnel.
Captain Duncan Thomas, the commanding officer at RNAS Yeovilton, expressed his delight and honor at having welcomed the Princess of Wales to the Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton. He anticipates a fruitful and enduring collaboration in her role as Commodore-in-Chief of the Fleet Air Arm.
He shared, “We have all been eagerly anticipating this opportunity, and I am thrilled that Her Royal Highness will be able to provide support and inspiration to our remarkably skilled sailors, aircrew, and the broader workforce for many years to come.”
Meanwhile, Prince Charles is scheduled to embark on a two-day visit to New York starting on September 18, 2023. During this visit, he will attend the Earthshot Prize Innovation Summit. Prince William will also address attendees, alongside other notable speakers such as Mike Bloomberg, former mayor of New York and business news magnate, Dame Jacinda Ardern, Earthshot Prize trustee and former prime minister of New Zealand, and Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft.
In addition, the future King is planning to travel to Singapore for the third Earthshot Prize Awards ceremony on November 7. However, it has been reported by The Telegraph that the Princess will not be accompanying her husband on this trip.