William grounded in WW1 bi-plane

The Oxford Times: Prince William sits in a vintage plane at an aviation heritage centre near Blenheim in New Zealand Prince William sits in a vintage plane at an aviation heritage centre near Blenheim in New Zealand

The Duke of Cambridge wished out loud he could take to the skies when he clambered into a First World War bi-plane today.

It might not have been a case of "chocks away" for William, but the former RAF pilot clearly enjoyed the experience of getting to grips with the controls of a replica aircraft flown by a fighter ace.

The moment was captured on a smartphone by one of the most successful movie-makers of recent years - Lord Of The Rings director Peter Jackson.

William and wife Kate were visiting the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre in Blenheim, New Zealand, and toured the Knights Of The Sky exhibition, Jackson's display of First World War aircraft.

The trip came on the fourth day of their tour of New Zealand, which saw the Duke and Duchess honour their host country - William in a speech and Kate with a dazzling black gown embroidered with silver ferns.

The royal couple's tributes came at a state reception held in their honour and they left their host - governor general Sir Jerry Mateparae - in no doubt about their feelings for the nation.

In his speech to leading New Zealanders, William said they possessed the qualities of "warm-heartedness, generosity, neighbourliness'' and had "an instinctive sense of justice and freedom''.

He also said the nation was an innovator in areas such as medicine, commerce and industry, belying the small size of its population.

New Zealanders showed their affection for the Duke and Duchess by turning out in their thousands to cheer on their famous guests when they visited Blenheim on the country's South Island.

William and Kate went on their first walkabout of the 19-day tour of New Zealand and Australia, receiving armfuls of flowers and presents from the 5,000 well-wishers who filled the town's main square.

The mood of the ecstatic crowds contrasted with a sombre wreath-laying service that had been held a few minutes before at Blenheim's war memorial in the square, where William and his wife left a floral tribute to those who died fighting for New Zealand in all conflicts.

At the aviation centre Jackson personally took the royal couple around the displays of First World War planes and fighter pilot memorabilia - many pieces collected by him and a passion he has pursued since he was 12.

Outside the attraction in Blenheim, William had his chance to play with the exhibits though at first he turned down the chance to sit in the cockpit of a German Fokker tri-plane saying: "I'm not climbing into a German plane but I'll get into that Sopwith."

A 1960s replica of a Sopwith Pup, a bi-plane flown by British pilots during the Great War, caught his eye but getting into the plane was easier said than done for the Duke, who is over 6ft tall, and he had to squeeze himself in.

It was designed to look like the plane used by New Zealand flying ace Malcolm McGregor, awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and bar and credited with downing 10 enemy aircraft and an observation balloon.

William, a former RAF search and rescue helicopter pilot, could not contain his excitement and said "Start her up", but the plane stayed firmly on the ground.

For the state reception, Kate followed the Queen's tradition of incorporating a national emblem or colour of a host country into a gown.

Two symbols of New Zealand - the colour black and the silver fern - were the key elements of her Jenny Packham dress, with ferns embroidered on the outfit's left shoulder.

William said in his speech: "On this visit, I have no doubt that it will be Catherine - and not just me - who falls for New Zealand.

"The qualities that New Zealanders share in common with one another - warm-heartedness, generosity, neighbourliness, openness, an instinctive sense of justice and freedom, to name just a few - are qualities that I suspect, given your modesty, you may take for granted. But they are qualities for which New Zealanders are admired the world over.

"One of the things that I think we all value about New Zealand is the integrity of its institutions."

The proud father went on to joke about his eight-month-old son Prince George, who has joined his parents on their tour.

He told the guests at Wellington's Government House, the official residence of the governor general: "I hope that George doesn't keep you up, he has been known to be particularly vocal at 3am and I swear I heard him doing the haka."

During the reception William and Kate unveiled a portrait of the Queen, commissioned for the New Zealand Portrait Gallery and painted by Kiwi artist Nick Cuthell.

The Queen held an hour-long sitting with the painter last October, and in the portrait wears a simple blue day dress adorned by her silver fern brooch, which she has lent to the Duchess for her visit to New Zealand.

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