By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News Magazine
Top man: The prince, the pilot
It's the sort of courting ritual befitting of a future king - land a £10m Chinook helicopter in your girlfriend's garden. But are women really impressed by such a stunt, and if so, how can those of more modest means seek to recreate it?
It beats the normal show-off manoeuvre, a handbrake turn in an Escort XR3i.
Prince William practised a series of landings and take-offs in his RAF Chinook, outside the family home in Buckinghamshire of his girlfriend Kate Middleton.
"There's nothing more macho than landing a helicopter in your girlfriend's backyard," a royal source told the News of the World.
But not everyone has access to a £10m RAF helicopter that carries 55 troops, plus a girlfriend with a garden that looks like it should be owned by the National Trust.
So what would it take for anyone else to pull off this kind of display?
To hire: £190/ flying hour plus VAT
Capacity: Pilot plus one
Engine: Single piston
Rotor diameter: 7.7m
Speed: 80 knots cruise
First you need to get airborne. A personal pilot licence for a small, two-seater, single-engine helicopter - something of a Smart car compared with the Range Rover that was Wills' Chinook - will cost about £16,000. Training takes six to eight months if you can spare one or two days a week, says Kate Axell of Fast Helicopters. (Prince William completed his special course, full-time, in four months.)
"The minimum number of (flying) hours legally is 45 but you need to budget for about 55 to 60 hours and you only pay for the hours spent in the air. There are seven multiple-choice exams and a medical."
Basic maths is a requirement, because you need to calculate how much fuel is required, based on the weight of passengers and the vehicle.
One of the cheapest helicopters to hire is the Robinson R22, at £190 per (flying) hour plus VAT. An upgrade to the four-seater R44 would be £340 per hour, but pilots would need another five hours of training to adapt to the more powerful helicopter.
'No big deal'
If the prospective in-laws' homestead is rather more humble than chez Middleton, further challenges await. Altitude must be kept to 1,500ft in built-up areas when piloting single-engine helicopters and landing in a city garden is out of the question, says Ms Axell. A farm (with the owner's permission) or a large garden on the outskirts of a city is a better bet.
Most trainees are male but from varying backgrounds, she says, and although a helicopter is a status symbol there's very little arrogance.
"Most people who fly here are very humble about the whole thing. It's a very practical way of doing things. If you have a business that needs you around the country, then instead of sitting in a car you can take a helicopter and land anywhere, so it's an easy and practical thing to do."
But some more urbane observers might surmise the whole exercise is a little try-hard. Surely modern women expect a more cerebral display of powers.
Not Laura Cox, a university student who is working towards her commercial pilot's licence at Tiger Helicopters in Herefordshire. Such a gesture would sweep her off her feet.
"I'd definitely be impressed if a nice gentleman landed a helicopter in my garden. But I don't know any other pilots, so it hasn't happened yet," says Ms Cox. "If a lad comes to chat me up, he's always shocked when I tell him I fly helicopters - especially since I'm quite a girly girl - and wants to know more about it."
While airborne stunts clearly retain some wow factor, the motoring equivalent - boy racers who like to pull away in their souped-up cars - is somewhat less impressive.
Freelance motoring correspondent Richard Yarrow believes the days of trying to impress a girl by picking her up in a flashy gas-guzzler ended decades ago.
"It's an exercise in stereotypes. Are men really that shallow to think women will be impressed and are women that shallow that they will be impressed by a sports car? Go for a Honda Civic hybrid or a high-mileage city car," he advises, "to show you're a bit more caring than driving a V8-powered 400 horsepower sports car that belts out more C02 than your average power station."
And according to comedian Kathy Lette, to impress a woman a man doesn't need to fly a chopper, he needs to be one.
"The way to a woman's heart is through her stomach. That is not aiming too high. Get into that cooking apron and start chopping and mopping and shopping," says Lette.
"A man in a cooking apron is the ultimate aphrodisiac for a female. Do something sensitive with snow peas and you will have her eating out of your hand - and perhaps other parts of your anatomy."
Add your comments on this story, using the form below.
It doesn't have to be a helicopter. My boyfriend flew us in a small fixed wing plane for lunch a good few miles away. It was our 3rd date. We have been together for four years now and the flying certainly impressed me.
My girlfriend was impressed when I took her fixed wing flying. Now she thinks the whole aviation thing so mundane and a bit of a bore. Miss Middleton would no doubt be impressed the first day, but give her a year and she'll be fed up with discussion of correct RT, meterology & rule 5.
Paul Ross, England
My Nissan Micra might not be able to beat the traffic as easily as a RAF Chinook, but it's certainly a lot more convenient when it comes to trying find a suitable parking space.
DS, Croydon, England
OMG!!! Prince William must have flown above my house to get to her house wowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww. I adore him.
Lets face it, we have all seen Topgun, we all want to wear the uniform and if I had the chance I would have done the same. It's like when you get the car keys off your dad for the first time, of course you are going to take it for a spin and pick up your girlfriend. OK, so I had my mum's Nissan but hey if it was a Chinook I would have done the same.
Ben Edwards, Reading
How about females impressing us men for a change? Like having the dinner ready as we walk through the door or keeping the kids quiet? They want helicopters, all we ask is for our slippers (warmed of course).
Kelty Ferrero, Dublin
How to be swept of your feet:
1. Be taken out to breakfast at a nice little local cafe
2. Be taken shopping - even if it's just window shopping
3. Be taken to the theatre
4. Have your evening meal cooked for you
5. Rent a DVD
Simple, not too expensive - and a darn sight quieter that a Chinook.
Are other cadets allowed such unlimited personal use of RAF aircraft?
Tim Fox, Beckenham
Well I don't care what you men think, it was so romantic. Definitely a modern day Mr Darcy, indeed. She is so lucky.
"A personal pilot licence for a small, two-seater, single-engine helicopter - something of a Smart car compared with the Range Rover that was Wills' Chinook - will cost about £16,000." Oh there you go then - I just need to save my complete Salary for a year and I'm all set!!
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