An RAF pilot has been awarded one of the RAF’s most celebrated honours.
Flight Lieutenant Ben Wallis was presented with the Air Force Cross by the Duke of Cambridge at Buckingham Palace.
The award is for saving the lives of all the crew on-board his Merlin helicopter after an engine malfunction.
Flt Lt Wallis stepped into action when the RDAF Merlin suffered total mechanical failure while training at night in a confined area in the middle of a forest.
Just moments after lifting off and with the helicopter just 120ft above the trees, a catastrophic emergency situation developed with no power going to the engines, the rotors slowing to a stop and a student at the controls.
“There was a large bang and a jolt through the airframe.
"I was aware something pretty bad had happened at that point, so I took the controls from the student pilot.”
Flt Lt Wallis calmly steered it to a clear area while issuing warnings to his crew and completed an engine-off landing, saving the lives of all the crew on board – all in just 15 seconds.
“Luckily we cleared the trees and managed to put it down in a field but it was a close run thing.”
“At the time, it was so quick, the training kicked in and it went exactly as it would do in a simulator.
"Obviously these are things that we train for, multiples of times.
"I've never done it by night but the procedure was essentially muscle memory and training kicked in but I had several sleepless nights for a week after.”
Prince William, a fellow pilot, presented the award to Flt Lt Wallis and took a keen interest in his story.
“We chatted about the Merlin; the fact that it has three engines, so, therefore, it was designed to almost make this an impossibility.
"So he was quite surprised a) that it happened but b) that I managed to survive and put the aircraft safely in a field and save the crew.”