In recognition of the Coronation of His Majesty The King on Saturday 6th May 2023 at Westminster Abbey, London, we would like to share with you a little of his aviation history and experience.
King Charles III is the military’s Commander-in-Chief. Both he and his son, the Prince of Wales (the next in line to the throne) are fully qualified RAF pilots. He has always maintained a close relationship with the Armed Forces and served in the both Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.
During his second year at Cambridge University, he received flying instruction from the Royal Air Force.On 8 March 1971, the King – then known as Prince Charles – flew himself to RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire to train as a jet pilot. Jet Provosts were designed to enable junior pilots who had already qualified on propeller driven aeroplanes, to get their first experiences flying jet powered aeroplanes. Trainee pilots would then go on to fly something more powerful. In 1971 the red and white Jet Provost T5A XW323 /9166M was new, and it was based at the airfield of the officer training college at RAF Cranwell, Lincolnshire. It was selected for use for the pilot training of Flt Lt The Prince of Wales. His period of training was codenamed Exercise Golden Eagle’ and his aeroplane as Golden Eagle Two. Two Jet Provosts were held at readiness for use by the Prince during his four-month course. He flew just over 92 hours in these, 23 ½ of them solo.
After his last training flight on 27 July, he was qualified to wear the Royal Air Force Flying badge, which was presented to him on 20 August 1971 by Air Vice Marshal Sir Denis Spotswood during a ceremony at Cranwell, Lincolnshire.
After passing out at RAF Cranwell, he embarked on a career in the Royal Navy, following in the footsteps of his father, grandfather and both great-grandfathers. Following his six-week course at Britannia Royal Naval College Dartmouth, he spent time serving on the guided missile destroyer HMS Norfolk and two frigates – HMS Minerva and HMS Jupiter.
1974 saw the future King qualify as a helicopter pilot and he flew Wessex helicopters with 845 Naval Air Squadron from the commando aircraft carrier HMS Hermes.
The King gave up flying in 1994 following a crash in the Hebrides in which a Queen’s Flight passenger jet was damaged at a cost of £1 million. An RAF board of inquiry found that the aircraft’s captain had been negligent in allowing him to take the controls. Prince Charles (as he was at the time) was not blamed because, despite holding the RAF rank of group captain, he was regarded as a passenger who was invited to fly the aircraft. The inquiry can pass judgment on the crew.
The press reported the following:
“The RAF report into the accident, released in the House of Commons yesterday, concluded the jet was flying 32 knots (40mph) too fast when it crossed the runway threshold. Only 509m (557yds) of the 1,245m-long (1,362yd) strip remained when all the aircraft’s wheels touched down, causing a tyre to burst and another to deflate.”
Despite leaving the military, the King has continued to work closely with the Armed Forces and in 2012, Queen Elizabeth II awarded him the highest rank in all three services – Field Marshal, Admiral of the Fleet and Marshal of the Royal Air Force.
He has been the Commander-in-Chief of the UK Armed Forces since the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, in September 2022. A month later, the King replaced the Duke of Sussex as Captain General of the Royal Marines – the ceremonial head of the corps.
His first flight as King was traveling from Aberdeen to London onboard an Embraer Legacy private jet. King Charles III and his wife Camilla, now Queen Consort, took off from Aberdeen Airport at around 12:30 local time for the one hour trip south back to the capital.
The King has frequently flown on other aircraft, including the UK’s A330-based MRTT, affectionately known as Boris Force One. In fact, he and his wife were the first passengers on board the newly liveried aircraft in November 2020, flying to Berlin to observe Memorial Day.
In February 2020, Charles was treated to a tour of British Airways’ maintenance base, with the then-CEO Alex Cruz taking the heir on a tour of a Boeing 787, showcasing the airline’s sustainability efforts. The aircraft was G-ZBKA, and the prince was shown everything from the interiors to the inner workings of the Trent 1000 engines. It was a nice bookend for him to be at the maintenance base again, as he opened the facility some 26 years previously.
As King, the Queen’s Flight will become the King’s Flight again, for the first time in 70 years. This is a special fleet of aircraft at the disposal of the royal family for trips and visits, and currently includes three helicopters, the A330 MRTT, An A321neo, and a Dassault Falcon 900LX.