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Prince Harry set to return to Afghan front line

Prince Harry, the third in line to the British throne, is set to return to the frontline in Afghanistan in a combat role within a year after qualifying to fly Apache attack helicopters.

world Updated: Mar 12, 2011 20:31 IST

Prince Harry, the third in line to the British throne, is set to return to the frontline in Afghanistan in a combat role within a year after qualifying to fly Apache attack helicopters.

The 26-year-old has completed a gruelling 10-month training course to learn how to pilot one of the fearsome gunships. It means Prince Harry could be sent to the war zone to fight the Taliban as early as spring 2012, The Daily Mail reported.

A spokesman for the young royal, whose official military title is Lieutenant Wales of the Army Air Corps, said he was "delighted" to have qualified as an elite pilot.

Prince Harry is said to have astonished his instructors with his natural aptitude for flying helicopters and the determination to succeed in the prestigious role.

Quoting a source the report said, "Only the top two per cent of military helicopter pilots make it to the Apaches and Harry has had to work extremely hard. There is no way his status as a Royal could have got him this far."

Harry will now undertake a period of further "intensive" training to make sure he is fit for the task of flying perilous battlefield missions in the 46 million pounds chopper.

This will include an advanced mountain flying to prepare him for Afghanistan, where much fighting takes place at high altitude. He must also learn how to operate the Apache's devastating weaponry, including deadly laser-guided cannons and Hellfire missiles, before he is deemed 'combat ready'.

Harry initially trained as a tank troop commander with the Household Cavalry.

He was secretly deployed to Afghanistan's Helmand province and worked as a forward air controller directing air strikes against the Taliban for ten weeks in 2007-08. But his time there was cut short when news of his presence leaked out and he was brought back to Britain.

As a result, he decided to retrain as an Army Air Corp helicopter pilot in the hope that it would increase his chances of being redeployed. Despite failing an early maths exam Harry persevered and received his flying wings in May 2010.

He enlisted on the 'conversion to type' course with 22 colleagues at the Army Air Corps Base in Middle Wallop, Hampshire. In the last two weeks, Harry and three remaining pilots on the course have been flying sorties through the French Alps - the most dangerous part of their training so far.