LONDON ? Prince Harry has completed the first stage of training to fly an Apache attack helicopter and has been promoted to captain, palace officials announced Sunday.
Harry, who will be best man at his older brother Prince William's wedding to Kate Middleton later this month, has qualified to fly the helicopter without an instructor and will now learn to operate its weapons systems.
The completion of the course brings the 26-year-old a step closer to returning to combat, following his ten-week stint in Afghanistan in 2007-8 where he directed jets dropping bombs on Taliban positions in Helmand.
Speaking earlier this month, Harry said it would be pointless for him to train as a pilot if the army did not intend to deploy him.
"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," he said.
The prince was commissioned as an army officer in April 2006 and began his Apache training in July last year, a process which involved considerable study as well as hours in a simulator and day and night flying.
During the eight-month course, he made 14 day sorties to test his ability to fly in cloud and to navigate complex and congested airspace, and took part in a two-week mountain flying exercise in the French Alps.
Harry has also now completed five years in the army, which entitles him to the title of Captain Harry Wales.
"Prince Harry has been promoted to captain within the Army Air Corps in recognition of time service in the armed forces," a palace spokesman said.
Next up is another eight-month course where Harry will learn to operate the Apache's weapons systems. Some of the training will be in the United States.
Apache helicopters are designed to hunt and destroy armoured vehicles and can carry a mix of weapons including rockets, Hellfire missiles and a 30 millimetre chain gun.
Prince William is a search and rescue helicopter pilot with the Royal Air Force.
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