Vintage plane lures a prince


Prince William channelled Biggles yesterday, climbing into the cockpit of a World War I Sopwith Pup during a tour of the Omaka Heritage Aviation Centre in Marlborough.

William and Kate were shown around the centre by director Sir Peter Jackson.

After getting into the vintage biplane, the prince turned and smiled and said: "Perfect, fine by me, start 'er up."

Kate laughed as William struggled to manoeuvre his long legs into the biplane's cockpit.

He asked if it worked, while Kate peered in.

"It's fantastic," he said.

However, he declined to put on a vintage pilot's helmet and goggles, despite urges to do so from the media.

"No, no, no," he said.

"A step too far?" Prime Minister John Key said.

"It might well be," William replied.

He remained in the cockpit for several minutes while the intricacies of the aircraft were explained to him by New Zealand Aviation Museum Trust trustee Graham Orphan, who led the royals through the tour.

William had moments of self doubt as he tried to get out of the Sopwith Pup, which had wires running in every direction between the wings.

"Oh dear, there's no dignified way of doing this, is there?" he said.

"Let's see if I can get out without smacking my head".

The royal couple also stepped inside an Avro Anson plane from WWII, complete with a gun turret.

Owners Bill and Robyn Reid said it took 10 years to restore the plane - believed to be the only one of its type remaining.

William sat at the controls for some time, amazed with the cockpit controls, all painstakingly restored.

The royal couple were also shown the exhibition of the famous Red Baron's last flight when he was shot down in 1918 - after shooting down a record 80 Allied planes.

Jackson explained that Australian troops were first on the scene and they proceeded to strip the plane for mementos.

It was a fact that brought a chortle from the prince.

He wondered where the paraphernalia was now.

After the tour, William told Sir Peter, "It was very, very good".

"Thank you so much," Kate said.

About the weather, she said, "It reminds us of home."

Then they were whisked away, waving to the crowd from an open car window.

Jackson, a benefactor of the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre trust who owns the majority of the exhibits in the museum, said it was great to have the couple visit.

"It was nice, very, very nice," Jackson said.

In the couple's final moments of their visit to the centre, Jackson and William could be heard joking about flying in New Zealand.

"I don't know what the paperwork is," Jackson said to the Duke.

The Windsor Star reports : Prince William 'flies' First World War plan in New Zealand

The Marlborough Express