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Page last updated at 09:40 GMT, Friday, 11 April 2008 10:40 UK

Can you be an RAF pilot in 13 weeks?

By Rob Corp
BBC News

Prince William inspects a plane
Instructors have praised the prince's flying ability

It can take up to four years to fully train an RAF pilot, so how did Prince William get his wings in under four months?

Prince William is never going to be an operational air force pilot.

Recruits at the RAF's Central Flying School at Cranwell normally face a course of 26 weeks to complete their elementary flying training, as a prelude to a much longer period of specialised training in a single type of aircraft.

But the prince, destined one day to be commander-in-chief of the armed forces, is enjoying only a taste of life in the RAF.

Officers at the flying school devised a bespoke syllabus that meant the future king was able to fly solo in two fixed-wing training aircraft and a helicopter within 13 weeks. The prince was even able to find time to go skiing in Klosters with his father.

God knows how somebody trusted me with an aircraft and my own life
Prince William after his first solo flight

After initial training, the prince was sent to fly Short Tucanos, the entry aircraft for pilots destined for fighters, before going on to learn the Squirrel helicopter.

When the prince started his training on 7 January, the Ministry of Defence pointed out he was being "fast-tracked", that his training would be "intensive" and that the course "had been shortened to meet his needs".

The MoD spoke of the prince being trained to be a "competent pilot" but accepted he was not going to have a full-time military career, unlike his brother.

Solo hours

Former RAF Squadron Leader Chris Carder, who was also in the Red Arrows and ex-chief instructor at the Defence Elementary Flying Training School, says the prince has got his wings "in a lot less time than you or I would've if we'd joined the air force on the same day".

But he adds that this is fair, given he will never fly front-line fast jets or helicopters.

"A lot of flying training is taken up with solo hours," says Mr Carder.

"You have to send the student off building hours, gaining confidence and gaining airmanship - airborne common sense.

"William doesn't need that because he won't be flying operationally on the front line."

Prince William in classroom
The prince is a future commander-in-chief

The prince went solo for the first time on 16 January, an experience he described at the time as being "an amazing feeling".

So has Flying Officer Wales effectively gone to the RAF to get the equivalent of a civilian private pilot's licence (PPL)?

"He's done more than PPL training," says Mr Carder. "On a PPL course, the basics are very basic, by their nature.

"By the end of a PPL course, you can't fly at night or in bad weather. You can take-off, land, fly from A-to-B and are able to deal with a possible engine failure en-route."


The RAF teaches its students to do all those things, as well as learn instrument flying (so they can fly in bad weather or cloud), aerobatics and formation flying. But short-cuts may have been made in his syllabus.

"If you're not producing a pilot to fly operationally, you can skip a lot of that," says Mr Carder.

Prince William in aircraft
Give him too little training, and he's not earned it... but you've wasted tax-payers' money if you given him full training to do nothing
Chris Carder
Former RAF pilot

He also believes the prince would have had less waiting around than other recruits.

"When a new course starts, it often sits on the ground, while the senior course complete their training because of weather delays," Mr Carder says.

Once a student has gained their wings, they are then streamed - based on their aptitude - to go on and learn how to fly either fast jets, multi-engined aircraft, or helicopters.

Having completed the next phase of their training - which can be a further 70-80 weeks of tuition - a pilot will be posted to an "operational conversion unit", which will teach them to fly front-line aircraft.

The RAF has also had to make sure training the prince has been good value for money.

"You give him too little training, and he's not earned it," says Mr Carder.

"But you've wasted tax-payers' money if you have given him full training to do nothing."

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