Prince Harry is top gun in Apache helicopter course

LONDON Thu Feb 9, 2012 12:51am GMT

Britain's Prince Harry (R) smiles during his visit to the Royal Navy's fleet diving squadron at Horsea Island in Portsmouth, southern England, October 31, 2007. REUTERS/Tim Ockenden/Pool

Britain's Prince Harry (R) smiles during his visit to the Royal Navy's fleet diving squadron at Horsea Island in Portsmouth, southern England, October 31, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Tim Ockenden/Pool

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LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's Prince Harry has won a prize for being the best co-pilot gunner out of more than 20 newly qualified Apache attack helicopter pilots, the Ministry of Defense said Thursday.

Queen Elizabeth's grandson, known in the military as Captain Wales, will be eligible for operational duties like any British serviceman, although there were no details about any future deployment.

"The award handed to Captain Wales consists of a polished 30 mm round from an Apache cannon mounted on a stand," the ministry said in a statement.

Harry, who four years ago briefly did active service in Afghanistan, was given the award during a dinner Wednesday to mark the end of 18 months of intensive training. It was one of two prizes for achievement on the Apache course.

The prince, third in line to the throne, follows in the footsteps of elder brother William, who is currently on deployment as a Royal Air Force search and rescue helicopter pilot in the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic.

William's presence there has riled Argentina, which fought and lost a war against Britain in 1982 over its claim to the Falklands, called Las Malvinas in Spanish.

As part of his Apache course, Harry spent two months in the United States where he was trained in handling the helicopter in mountain and desert conditions, in dust landings, and day and night operations, as well as taking part in live firing.

British Apache helicopters supported last year's NATO mission over Libya and continue to be used to assist the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

The 27-year-old prince served in the army in the southern Afghan province of Helmand but returned home after just 10 weeks when a media blackout collapsed.

He had secretly been flown to Helmand in mid-December 2007 to work as a forward air controller, calling in air strikes and informing pilots of where their targets were.

That made him the first member of Britain's royal family to see active service in a theatre of war since his uncle Prince Andrew flew helicopters during the Falklands war.

After returning from Afghanistan, Harry said he was keen to return to frontline action but military chiefs warned it could pose too much of a security headache.

A possible deployment to Iraq was cancelled at the last minute because of concern for his safety and that of his colleagues.

The prince will be based at an army air base at Wattisham in eastern England, as part of 16 Air Assault Brigade, where he will participate in exercises within Britain to gain wider experience of flying Apaches.

(Reporting by Michael Holden and Tim Castle, editing by Paul Casciato)

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