"She was a natural," Flight Lieutenant Michael Salter tells PEOPLE

By Simon Perry
February 14, 2017 07:58 AM
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Princess Kate kicked off her Valentine’s Day without Prince William – instead joining Royal Air Force cadets at an airfield in Cambridgeshire England.

The royal mother of two wore a deep red, double-breasted wool blazer over a black turtleneck. She joined the cadets, who are in the first months of their training, in a personal development lesson and also tried out a flight simulator.

After about five minutes of gingerly trying the controls, she gradually took over after instruction from Flight Lieutenant Michael Salter.

“She was gentle on the controls. Very often people are too rough but she had it exactly right,” Salter tells PEOPLE. “The controls are extremely sensitive, and she was extremely sensitive.”

Kate told him she hadn’t flown before “but she wanted to understand what the feeling was like in the air. She now realizes how the controls alter the sensation in the air. She was a natural.”

She took the place of Flight Sergeant Jordan Avery, 18, who was in the seat ahead of her. He says, “Her flying was very good — probably the same standard as I am, and I’ve been on the course for a day.”

Duchess of Cambridge visit to RAF Wittering
Credit: Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty

Kate, who took over from Prince Philip as Honorary Air Commandant of the Air Cadets in December 2015, was introduced to the recruits of the Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire Wing Air Training Corps, who are on the camp at RAF Wittering this week.

Duchess of Cambridge visit to RAF Wittering
Credit: Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty

The last time Kate, 35, visited cadets was at an air show in Gloucestershire last summer when she and Prince William memorably brought along son Prince George.

Kate viewed a single-engine trainer aircraft with the cadets and then took to the controls of the simulator.

The RAF Air Cadets includes the Air Training Corps and the Combined Cadet Force and promotes practical interest in the aviation world among young men and women. It provides training and encourages the development of life skills including leadership and teamwork. There are 41,000 cadets ages 12-19 and 15,000 adult volunteers in the U.K. and abroad.

Duchess of Cambridge visit to RAF Wittering
Credit: Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty
Duchess of Cambridge visit to RAF Wittering
Credit: Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty

Kate and William have many links with the world of flying. They spent the first few years of married life in North Wales, where the prince was a helicopter search and rescue pilot with the RAF. More recently, he has been flying on behalf of the East Anglian Air Ambulance – a post William is set to give up soon as he concentrates on royal duties.