- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2008

LONDON (AP) — Prince William landed an air force helicopter at the home of his girlfriend’s parents during a training flight, Britain’s Defense Ministry said yesterday.

British media called the exercise wasteful at a time when the military is stretched by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and warned that it risked testing the public’s patience with the monarchy.

The landing on the Middleton family farm on April 3 was planned and authorized as part of the prince’s Royal Air Force pilot training, the ministry statement said.

“The aircraft landed in the field, after taking all necessary safety precautions, and was on the ground for 20 seconds,” the ministry said. “No one got on or off the aircraft.”

The military lacks landing sites and often seeks permission from landowners to use their fields for training exercises, the statement said.

The prince and Kate Middleton have dated since they were students at St. Andrews University in Scotland. Miss Middleton’s parents are self-made millionaires who run a mail-order company that sells children’s party favors from their farm in southern England.

The farm is 16 miles northwest of Odiham air force base, where the prince began his flight.

Prince William received his air force wings, the traditional badge given to graduate pilots, on April 11 after four months in the air force learning to pilot helicopters and planes. His training was designed to make him a competent, but not operational, flier.

News of the landing on the Middletons’ farm comes as the air force faces criticism for allowing Prince William to fly a Chinook helicopter from London to the Isle of Wight to attend a bachelor party for his cousin, Peter Phillips, on the day the prince was awarded his wings. Prince William’s brother, Prince Harry, was also on board.

The ministry said both flights were part of the prince’s training.

Britain’s News of the World newspaper yesterday accused Prince William of using military equipment as a taxi service while military resources are stretched.

“William’s jaunts risk testing the public’s patience with the monarchy,” the newspaper wrote in an editorial.

British fighter-jet pilots normally spend up to four years training.

The pilot’s training was part of Prince William’s preparations to eventually become king, when he will become the ceremonial head of Britain’s armed forces.

He is an army officer and due to serve a tour overseas, most likely onboard a navy warship.

Defense officials said previously that Prince William could be deployed to areas such as the South Atlantic, the Persian Gulf, the Pacific Ocean or the West Indies.

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