The Duke of Edinburgh: An Aviator’s Story

In this special article to commemorate the life of His Royal Highness, The Duke of Edinburgh, The Final Approach team wishes to share their deepest condolences to Her Majesty the Queen and the rest of The Royal Family. We share with you many moments of The Duke of Edinburgh’s flying career.

Prince Philip on an aircraft in Dallas (Dallas Public Library)

The Duke of Edinburgh began his flying career on 12th November 1952 at White Waltham – this was when the airfield based the RAF Home Command Communications Squadron from 1950 until 1959. By May 1953 he had earned his wings, and a private ceremony was held at Buckingham Palace on 4th May 1953. To celebrate his achievement, he flew solo over Windsor Castle.

Prince Philip’s solo flight over Windsor Castle (Royal Collection Trust)

Less than three years later, His Royal Highness obtained his helicopter wings in 1956, and his private pilot’s license in 1959. Aviation was in his blood. But why? Many individuals argue it was his own desire to learn to fly after his sister Cecile and her family lost their lives in a plane crash on their way to London in 1937. A new-born baby was among the casualties as well, suggesting that she had given birth mid-flight. None of the 11 souls on board survived. Despite this tragedy, the Prince manifested the desire to fly aircraft.

One interesting step in Prince Philip’s devoted flying career was in 1964, when he took the controls during a 75-minute flight to British European Airways’ training quarters in Essex, flying their new Trident jet. He made two landings and was joined by the training flight manager and BEA chairman at the time.

His Royal Highness was also known for his dedicated service to charity, as with a lot of other royals. In 1952, he became Patron of The Air League, a charity dedicated to changing lives through aviation since 1909.

‘Each year many hundreds of people from disadvantaged backgrounds benefit from Air League support to help them start a career, build self-esteem and well-being, make them feel valued and realise what they can achieve.’

– The Air League

The British Gliding Association, which is the governing body for the sport of gliding in the UK, was also fortunate enough to have HRH The Duke of Edinburgh as their president.

Prince Philip at the controls of BEA’s new Trident (Royal Collection Trust)

Although in the history books his final flight was in 1997 from Carlisle to Islay, many do not know when he gave up his flying license and there were often rumours in which he seemed to continue flying months later. As with many pilots who share this same vision, he expressed his time in the air as having felt much safer – as there were less planes in the air than there were cars on the ground.

As a man who had garnered over 5000 flight hours with over 50 types of aircraft in his logbook, we thank His Royal Highness for his charitable services to aviation. We thank His Royal Highness for being a true aviator, a skilled pilot – and for a lifetime of service.

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I'm an aspiring commercial pilot, with the goal of being able to influence others to join me in the industry. I study Air Transport Management alongside my pilot training.

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