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William, second-in-line to the British throne, carried out his first mission in October, plucking a stricken worker from a gas rig off the coast of northwestern England.

“He is very down to earth, he is very grounded, and he is a capable pilot,” said William’s commanding officer, Squadron Leader Iain Wright. “Thus far he is showing very good potential.”

Wright said that, up to now, he hasn’t had cause to wag a finger at William, but does expect the man who will one day be known as His Majesty to show deference when addressing senior ranks.

“Usually it’s boss, occasionally if it’s required he’ll call me Sir, but in the air we always refer to each other on first name terms,” Wright said.

William’s father Prince Charles served with the Royal Navy _ briefly commanding a minehunter, and also qualified as a jet pilot. During a 22-year naval career, William’s uncle, the Duke of York, flew combat missions during the 1982 Falklands war with Argentina over Britain’s disputed South Atlantic colony.

The Duke of Edinburgh, William’s grandfather, served for more than a decade in the Royal Navy _ including during World War II.

Like his grandfather, William’s military career is likely to be curtailed by regal duties. Philip left active service in 1952 when the queen took her throne, and most observers suspect the prince will hang up his pilot’s helmet when Charles becomes king _ if not earlier.

Before then, William will serve about two-and-a-half more years as a rescue pilot in Anglesey, allowing the royal newlyweds to spend the first months of their marriage in a discreet corner of Britain. The couple rent a whitewashed farmhouse close to a private beach, and away from snooping camera lenses.

“The wives are always the unsung heroes,” said Best. “The work that we do, sometimes, isn’t very nice, and we rely on our support networks, and on the firm base of our families at home.”

Middleton last month made a low-key visit to see William and his workmates at their base, and 27 colleagues from his squadron will travel to London for the couple’s April 29 wedding. Others have organized a street party on the base to mark the nuptials.

“We were hopeful, but we weren’t banking on it, so when the envelope came through the door we were tickled pink,” said Flight Lt. Thomas Bunn on receiving an invite.

Bunn said William is treated exactly like any other colleague, and the crew jokingly mocked the glossy Mario Testino photographs published to mark his engagement.

William’s crew will attend the Westminster Abbey ceremony _ in dress uniform _ but not the Buckingham Palace receptions planned for later in the day.

Best said that, to his colleagues, the pilot prince is already showing the qualities that could make him a hugely popular king.

“He is a fantastic guy, has had a fantastic upbringing, he’s a great person to work with and he really will be a fantastic ambassador for our country,” he said.

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