Shropshire Star

'I was a basket case' - Prince Harry tells of first solo flight at RAF Shawbury

Prince Harry told how he was a "basket case" on his first solo flight at RAF Shawbury as he shared about his time in Shropshire in his memoir.

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Prince Harry at RAF Shawbury in 2010

The Duke of Sussex trained to be a helicopter pilot alongside his brother Prince William in 2009 and 2010.

In his tell-all book, Spare, which has become the fastest-selling non-fiction book in the UK, Prince Harry remembered his time in Shropshire.

"I shipped off to RAF Shawbury and discovered that helicopters were much more complex than Fireflys," he said. "Even the pre-flight checks were more extensive.

"I stared at the galaxy of toggles and switches and thought: how am I going to memorise all this?

"Somehow, I did. Slowly, under the watchful eyes of my two new instructors, Sergeant Majors Lazel and Mitchell, I learned them all.

"In no time we were lifting off, rotors beating the frothy clouds, one of the greatest physical sensations anyone can experience. The purest form of flying, in many ways. The first time we ascended, straight vertical, I thought: I was born for this.

"But flying helicopter, I learned, wasn't the hardest part. Hovering was. At least six long lessons were devoted to this one task, which sounded easy at first and quickly came to seem impossible. In fact, the more you practised hovering, the more impossible it seemed.

"The main reason was a phenomenon called 'hover monkeys'. Just above the ground a helicopter falls prey to a fiendish confluence of factors: air flow, downdraught, gravity. First, it wobbles, then it rocks, then it pitches and yaws - as if invisible monkeys are hanging from both its skids, yanking. To land the helicopter you have to shake off those hover monkeys, and the only way to do that is by... ignoring them.

"Easier said. Time and time again the hover monkeys got the better of me, and it was small consolation that they also got the better of every other pilot training with me. We talked among ourselves about these little b******s, these invisible gremlins. We grew to hate them, to dread the shame and rage that came with being bested by them yet again. None of us could work out how to restore the aircraft's equilibrium and put it on the deck without denting the fuselage. Or scraping the skids. To walk away from a landing with a long crooked mark on the tarmac behind you - that was the ultimate humiliation."

He added: "Come the day of our first solos we were all basket cases. The hover monkeys, the hover monkeys, that was all you heard around the kettle and the coffee pot. When it was my turn I climbed into the helicopter, said a prayer, asked the tower for clearance. All clear. I started her up, lifted off, did several laps around the field. No problem, despite strong winds.

"Now it was zero hour. On the apron were eight circles. You had to land inside one. Left of the apron was an orange brick building with huge glass windows where the other pilots and students waited their turn. I knew they were all standing at those windows, watching, as I felt the hover monkeys take hold. The aircraft was rocking. Get off, I shouted, leave me alone.

"I fought the controls and managed to set the helicopter inside one of the circles.

"Walking inside the orange building, I threw out my chest and proudly took my place at the windows to watch the others. Sweaty but smiling.

"Several student pilots had to abort their landings that day. One had to set down on a nearby patch of grass. One landed so hot and wobbly, fire trucks and an ambulance rushed to the scene.

"When he walked into the orange building, I could see in his eyes that he felt as I would have felt in his shoes. Part of him honestly wished he'd crashed and burned."

The princes were in Shropshire when the News of the World phone hacking scandal broke, a moment Harry described as "triumphal".

"We were together for the decisive moment, the triumphal unravelling of (Rupert) Murdoch's media empire," he said. "After months of investigation, a gang of reporters and editors at Murdoch's trashiest newspaper were finally being identified, handcuffed, arrested, charged with harassment of politicians, celebrities - and the Royal Family. Corruption was being exposed, finally, and punishments were forthcoming.

"I was overjoyed. So was Willy. More, it was glorious to finally have out suspicions validated and our circle of closest friends vindicated."