Prince to fly from Suffolk airbase?

PRINCE William could be flying out from a Suffolk military base with the RAF to help people in distress, it was revealed last night.

John Howard

PRINCE William could be flying out from a Suffolk military base with the RAF to help people in distress, it was revealed last night.

The Prince is to train to become a full-time pilot with the Royal Air Force's Search and Rescue Force (Sarf), Clarence House has announced.

He will begin his 18-month training course in January next year and, if he successfully completes the course, the second in line to the throne will become a fully operational search and rescue pilot in 2010 with one of the six UK-based Sarf flights.

One of the units is based at Wattisham Airfield, near Needham Market, where personnel said they would treat him as any other member of the crew.

Flt Lt Jean-Marc David, a search and rescue pilot at the Suffolk military base, said: “We have heard that he could come to anyone of the six units around the country and that includes Wattisham.

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“He would have to get through his training first and we would treat him as another member of the crew, another line pilot, which I am sure is the way he would want it. It would be fantastic to get to meet him though.”

Sarf is ready to respond 24 hours a day and covers the whole of the UK and beyond. Its primary role is to recover RAF personnel, but in peacetime, the majority of callouts are to civilian incidents.

The Prince, an officer in the Household Cavalry Regiment, said yesterday: “It has been a real privilege to have spent the past year understanding and experiencing all aspects of the British Armed Forces.

“I now want to build on the experience and training I have received to serve operationally, especially because, for good reasons, I was not able to deploy to Afghanistan this year with D Squadron of the Household Cavalry Regiment.

“The time I spent with the RAF earlier this year made me realise how much I love flying. Joining search and rescue is a perfect opportunity for me to serve in the forces operationally, while contributing to a vital part of the country's emergency services.”

A spokeswoman for Clarence House said: “In the time available between his training and operational commitments with the Sarf, Prince William will continue to work with the organisations and charities with which he is associated, as well as carrying out some public royal duties.”

The Prince will transfer his service from the Army to the air force, after being commissioned into the RAF in January, and will have the rank of flying officer.

The 26-year-old is following in the footsteps of his father, the Prince of Wales, and uncle, the Duke of York, who both flew helicopters in the Royal Navy.

Andrew was a Sea King helicopter pilot who served in the 1982 Falklands conflict, flying missions from HMS Invincible.