(LONDON) — The public image of Britain’s Prince Harry as the fun-loving prince compared to his studious older brother, Prince William, may be up for debate after the 27-year-old Apache helicopter pilot received an award while William, a member of Britain’s Royal Air Force, has not.
Prince Harry of Wales, known as Captain Wales in the British army, was named the best front-seat pilot, or co-pilot gunner, from his class of more than 20 fellow Apache helicopter pilots, Britain’s Defense Ministry announced.
The prince received the honor at a dinner Wednesday to mark the end of what is known as the Conversion to Role Course, a rigorous 18-month training program that leaves Harry and his fellow trainees “up to the challenge of operating one the of the most sophisticated attack helicopters in the world,” according to a press release issued by the ministry.
Harry’s award was one of only two given at the end of the training course and honored the student whose “overall performance during the course is assessed as the best amongst their peer group,” the ministry noted.
U.K. tabloid The Sun broke news last month that the 18-month training program included Harry — known for his mischievous personality and penchant for good times — being hooded and threatened in intense hostage training to prepare him for a possible return to Afghanistan.
The prince, who entered the military in May 2005, first served in Afghanistan with the Household Cavalry of Britain’s Army Air Corps in 2008, but was held back after his presence in the country was leaked because he was considered a high-value target.
“He’s being prepared for capture and torture by the enemy in a war zone. It doesn’t get more real than this,” the Sun quoted a friend of Prince Harry’s as saying. “If Harry’s Apache goes down, he’s on his own. These exercises are a glimpse of what he might face in a worst-case scenario.”
The paper reported that Harry endured those “nightmare scenarios” as well as a “defense, survival, evasion, resistance and extraction” program at the RAF St Mawgan in Cornwall.
According to the Sun, Harry, the third in line to the throne, is the first British royal to complete that level of intense training.
Part of the training for which Harry received his award was conducted in the United States, where his short stay grabbed headlines late last year.
The prince completed a two-month helicopter training program in California and Arizona, where he tested missiles and rockets in the desert, a location meant to simulate the scorching aridity of Afghanistan.
During his time off in the States, Harry also managed to sightsee in Los Angeles and try his luck in Las Vegas, where he reportedly gambled, took in a show and was spotted chatting with ladies and sipping cocktails at a nightclub.
The prince will now join his fellow soldiers in being assigned to squadrons in the Apache Force of the 16 Air Assault Brigade, the largest brigade in the British army, with more than 7,400 soldiers, according to information released by the Defense Ministry.
No information was released on when, or if, Prince Harry could face a possible deployment.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Ashley Fantz, AnneClaire Stapleton and Ed Payne, CNN Newswire