Prince Harry has qualified as an Apache helicopter pilot and scooped a prize for his shooting skills – paving the way for a possible return to war-torn Afghanistan, according to this report from British Armed Forces News, 10 February 2010.
The Ministry of Defence announced today that Harry was presented with the best co-pilot gunner award during a dinner held last night to mark the end of 18 months of rigorous training for him and his fellow military pilots.
The Prince – a Captain with the Army Air Corps – is keen to return to Afghanistan for a second tour of duty after his first tour was cut short in 2008 and believes flying Apaches gives him the best opportunity.
He received his award – a polished 30mm round from an Apache cannon mounted on a stand – at the dinner held at Wattisham Air Station, near Ipswich, Suffolk, where he has been training.
Apache Force Commander Colonel Neale Moss congratulated the Prince and more than 20 other students who completed the course.
He told them: "The Apache course is extremely challenging, teaching and testing students in their flying skills, decision-making and mental agility on exercise all over the country and abroad.
"They are assessed continually to ensure that they are up to the challenge of operating one of the most sophisticated attack helicopters in the world.
"This requires composure, dedication and hard work and I congratulate all of the students as they go forward to join an operational squadron and continue to learn more in their aviation careers."
The Apache attack helicopter is designed to hunt and destroy tanks, can operate in all weathers day and night, and is equipped with rockets, missiles and a machine gun.
It is used in Afghanistan and was deployed last year in Libya in support of NATO operations.
Harry and his colleagues have now been awarded limited combat-ready status after completing training both in the UK and America, including live firing exercises.
Captain Wales has been assigned to 662 Squadron, 3 Regiment Army Air Corps where he will gain wider experience flying Apaches and taking part in exercises in the UK.
The Prince has made no secret of his desire to return to frontline operations in Afghanistan.
He served for 10 weeks in the country as a forward air controller in 2007-08, directing jets dropping bombs on Taliban positions in Helmand province.
His tour of duty was abruptly ended however when foreign websites broke a media blackout on reporting details of his service.
Last April, while training for an Arctic expedition, he suggested it would be pointless to undertake costly helicopter training if he never went into combat.
He said: "You become a very expensive asset, the training's very expensive and they wouldn't have me doing what I'm doing.
"I'd just be taking up a spare place for somebody else if they didn't have me going out on the job."
St James's Palace has always stressed that the issue of Harry deploying on operations is a "matter for the Ministry of Defence chain of command".