It was a proud day for Flt Lt William Wales. After 20 months of hard work and dedication, Prince William graduated as a search and rescue pilot in an informal ceremony held at his base, RAF Valley, in Anglesey on Friday. Far from the pomp one might associate with royalty, the 28-year-old was honoured, along six fellow trainees, in a low-key affair, during which the officers each received a certificate and squadron badge from their unit commander. Wills said earlier that he was "really delighted" to become a fully-fledged search and rescue pilot.
"The course has been challenging but I have enjoyed it immensely.
"I absolutely love flying, so it will be an honour to serve operationally with the search and rescue force, helping to provide such a vital emergency service."
And his happiness at becoming a fully qualified pilot was evident at the 'wings ceremony'. He smiled broadly as he shook hands with his commander, who congratulated him on passing the tough training course. St James Palace stressed beforehand that he wouldn't have guests. So his girlfriend Kate Middleton wasn't present and the popular royal celebrated with his peers.
With the training programme behind him, William will now join 22 Squadron, C Flight as a fully operational Sea King co-pilot in a team of four, and will spend the next three years in Wales flying rescue missions. While he is on duty, the Prince – who will embark on his first 24-hour shift in a matter of weeks - will live on the base in readiness for any emergencies.
"You are exposed to your weaknesses and therefore have to adapt to them," said Wing Commander Peter Lloyd at RAF Valley.
"The crews have to work with you as a team – there is nowhere to hide in the crew of a helicopter."
The Queen's grandson completed 70 hours of live flying and 50 hours of simulator training in order to learn how to manoeuvre the Sea King helicopter to the high standards expected.
Friday's graduation was the culmination of seven-months of training with the Search and Rescue Training Unit and the Sea King Operational Unit.
William - whose younger brother Harry is learning to fly Apache helicopters - began training to become an S&R pilot back in January 2009.