Prince error ruled out - official

From:         Pete Mellor <pm@csr.city.ac.uk>
Date:         24 Jul 95 03:05:12 
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                      Prince of Pilots
                      ----------------

                                  - A short story by your favourite
                                    romantic writer, Silvy Krin *

It was a windy day on the isle of Islay in June 1994, as the royal
BAe 146 Whistler 4-engine jet approached on its short finals with
11 people on board.

Sitting in the right seat, RAF Squadron Leader Graham Laurie was
wondering if he had made the right decision in allowing his
distinguished passenger to take over as "pilot flying" (PF) a few
minutes previously. A landing in these conditions could be tricky,
even for someone as experienced as the man who occupied the left
seat, HRH the Prince of Wales.

"Should be OK", he thought, reflecting on the Prince's 20 year
unblemished flying record (apart from that time he failed the aptitude
test in the simulator in 1980, and that near-miss in 1970 over Sussex).
No. It would be foolish to worry. Had not Charles made his first solo
flight in 1968 while training with the Cambridge University Air Squadron,
gained his pilot's wings at Cranwell in 1971, and qualified as a
helicopter pilot serving with 845 Royal Naval Air Squadron, being
nominated "best student on the course"?

Many times his royal superior officer had asked to take the controls
during their flights together, and he, the most trusted pilot of No. 2
Royal Squadron at RAF Northolt, had always been happy to oblige. There
had never been any problem before (well, nothing too serious), and
the approach to Port Ellen airport seemed to be going smoothly so far,
but something troubled the Squadron Leader. Had his judgement been
influenced by the fact that, although he was the captain of the Queen's
Flight and responsible under God for its safety, his royal master
technically outranked him as a Group Captain?

He watched their approach carefully. Strange that the navigator had
not said an awful lot about the meteorological data. Something seemed
not quite right. Should he say something? Something like: "Err ... excuse
me, Sir, but shouldn't the nose be pointing forward for touch-down?"
The ground seemed to be approaching very fast ... too fast! Should he
shout "I have control!" and seize the control column, overruling his
superior officer and the future King of England? Perhaps "Excuse me, Sir.
I think perhaps you need a bit of help here?" might be more in keeping
with royal protocol.

It was too late. With a sickening thud, they were on the deck, and the
Squadron Leader felt the g force ramming him down into his seat. The
landing gear tyres screamed, then burst with loud explosions. With a
horrible lurch, the 'plane slewed to starboard off the runway. They were
on the grass! The nose gear bit deep and then collapsed. The 'plane jarred
to a sudden stop, looking like some strange winged beast grazing on the
soft Scottish bog.

They were shaken, but unhurt! From the passenger cabin just behind them
boomed the unmistakable voice of Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh: "You spilt
my gin and tonic, you stupid f***ing b*st*rd!".

"Shit!" said the Prince.

"I just have, Sir", said the Squadron Leader.

               --------------------------------------

Over a year later, the Squadron Leader looked back on his shattered
career. The final report on the investigation had just been presented to
Parliament on 19th July. He was mainly responsible! Although the navigator
had been severely criticised for not providing essential data, it was *he*,
the trusted royal pilot, who carried the can! Even though he was PNF on the
short final, it was *his* negligience that had caused the accident. Oh, how
he wished that he had that flight all over again!

In fantasy, he flew the approach once more. What should he have done?

"If you think I'm going to let you land this kite in these conditions,
you've got another think coming, sunshine, err ... I mean, Sir!"
Perhaps even at the eleventh hour, he could have saved the flight.
"Let go of the bloody controls, you bat-eared twit! I mean, please let
me take over, your Royal Highness."

No, it was too late. Never again would he be allowed to supervise another
pilot as an instructor. To his credit, HRH had volunteered to give evidence
to the Board of Enquiry, and was reported to have been "extremely upset"
that the Squadron Leader had been saddled with all the blame. He was still
the royal pilot, and indeed, had flown the Prince on many official
engagements since the accident, but his reputation had suffered a severe
blow. Forever the boys in the Northolt mess would snigger as he came in,
and make cutting remarks about "the guy who daren't take the controls off
that idiot".

Looking on the bright side, the Prince had announced on the day the report
came out that he would never again fly a 'plane himself. A palace spokesman
had been quick to point out to the gentlemen of the fourth estate that this
in no way implied any "loss of nerve" on the part of HRH.

At least, the Squadron Leader thought, the Prince's voluntary self-grounding
and the fact that he would never again be allowed to supervise HRH (or indeed
anyone), should cut his dry-cleaning bills down quite a bit.

He mentally totted up the Prince's hours on type, and reflected bitterly
that (at least from the point of view of one's career) it is safer to fly
an A320 than with HRH, particularly if one happens to be PNF when HRH is PF.

"Shit!" said the Squadron Leader, but there was nobody listening.

                                           Copyright Silvy Krin, 1995

               --------------------------------------

* "Silvy Krin" is the nom-de-plume of the famous romantic writer who
pens stories about the Royal Family and other distinguished persons
of the British Establishment in the pages of Private Eye. My apologies
for borrowing both her name and her style.

All the basic facts in the above fictional piece are as correct as can be
established from today's Guardian and Daily Mail, apart from the presence
of the Duke of Edinburgh on the Queen's Flight. (Other than the two on
the flight deck, none of the 11 people on board were named.) All of the
thoughts and private conversations attributed to real persons are, of
course, the product of poetic licence, but if the DoE had been on board,
the fictional reaction ascribed to him would have been entirely in character.

Estimates of the cost of repairs to the royal aircraft (to be paid for
by the loyal British taxpayer) vary from 1 million to 15 million pounds
sterling.

               --------------------------------------

Peter Mellor, Third spike from the left, Top of Traitor's Gate,
The Tower, London.
Tel: Ring the Tower and ask to speak to the Ravens department.
E-mail: yeomen@theguard.tower.hmpleasure
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