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Charles and Camilla fly paper airplanes with PM Stephen Harper

The mood was one of sheer excitement as The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall celebrated ‘Aerospace and Aviation in Manitoba Day’ at Red River College’s Aviation Campus on Wednesday, upon embarking on the last leg of their third royal tour to Canada.

Royal Tour 2014

Joined by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen, Their Royal Highnesses were besieged with cheers and the waving of flags as over 300 elementary schoolchildren joyfully welcomed them into the Stevenson Hangar, an aircraft maintenance training facility at the Winnipeg Airport.

This was an opportunity for the royal couple to witness firsthand the unique partnerships between industry and educational stakeholders in Manitoba’s aerospace and aviation sectors, as well as the initiatives that exist to encourage young people to consider pursuing education and careers in these fields.

The royal couple met with dignitaries, military personnel and aviation industry workers, but were especially eager to interact with Grade 6 schoolchildren whose science projects were prominently displayed throughout the hangar.

Fresh from speaking to The Duchess about their ‘Raw Royal Jelly’ project aimed at helping osteoporosis sufferers, one student team marvelled at how ‘attentive and interested’ Camilla was about their project.

“She asked a lot of questions,” Alexandra Chester told CTV News, adding that The Duchess asked for more time when her handlers tried to steer her away. The painful disease is a cause very near and dear to Camilla’s heart as she watched her mother die of the bone-crippling disease.  Today, she is president of Britain’s National Osteoporosis Society.

Other children were impressed at how kind and considerate the Royals were, saying this would definitely be a day to remember.

The students were there to participate in a mini?symposium designed to introduce them to the city’s thriving aerospace and aviation industries, and enhance their school science module on flight with hands-on activities focused on four major aspects of the aerospace and aviation sectors: repair/overhaul, manufacturing/composites, space, and flight.

Although the hangar had been cleared of most of its half-deconstructed airplanes and helicopters to make room for participants, the royal couple briefly toured the facility before taking in some of the local achievements in the fields of aerospace and aviation.

This included an opportunity to meet with the three Argyle, Manitoba students who developed the first elementary school project from Canada to be taken on board the International Space Station. The experiment was aimed at protecting astronauts from space radiation.

Attending aviation experts gave students and their royal guests a lesson in crafting the perfect paper airplane, after which Camilla, wearing a silver blue dresscoat by Fiona Clare, and Charles took turns flying them across the hangar, one airplane finding its demise in a head-on collision with a photographer, to the sheer delight of their young fans.

“The day we all made paper airplanes with Their Royal Highnesses is not one we’ll soon forget,” said PM Harper.

For his part, The Prince of Wales, a former pilot himself, reflected on his appreciation for the fruitful partnerships established between “Manitoba’s aerospace sector (and) the Province’s educational institutions to build interest among your bright young people in this important sector.

“If I may say so, this seems to me a remarkably good way to start to address the skills gap prevalent in so many industries.  In my own small way, I have tried over many years to tackle this gap through my own charities and initiatives, and have often felt I was trying to push water up a hill.  But today you have given me hope!

“As the Prime Minister mentioned, having myself flown fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft a very long time ago, all I can tell you is that I had a very determined admiration and respect for those marvellous engineers who actually take these things apart, and put them together usually after a pilot had broken it or done something awful to them,” quipped the Prince.

Addressing the three children whose project ended up at the International Space Station, the future monarch said: “And I particularly wanted to say to Ethan Enns, Avery Good and Ryan Petricig – I must say that to have had your experiment performed in space recently is, I think, a remarkable achievement since only one school at a time can actually get a space on it. So I hope they will be able to develop their skills and capabilities in the future.”

The Royal Couple was then given a baby flight jacket for Prince George, to the collective sigh of the participants.

As is customary in recognition of royal tours, Prime Minister Harper also announced that donations would be made to two charities on behalf of the royal couple: Let’s Talk Science and The Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

Let’s Talk Science is a national, charitable organization that creates and delivers unique learning programs and services to engage children, youth and educators in science, technology, engineering and math.

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society is dedicated to imparting a broader knowledge and deeper appreciation of Canada — its people and places, its natural and cultural heritage and its environmental, social and economic challenges.

This was to be the first of 12 engagements for The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, as they wrapped up their third whirlwind Canadian tour in four years.

photo credit: courtesy of Canadian Heritage – Patrimoine canadien

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