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Pilot Prince Harry to train in El Centro, California

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Media captionPrince Harry is in California for Apache helicopter training

The US city where '80s action film Top Gun was filmed is busy welcoming Prince Harry for his own extensive pilot training there.

It is hardly a setting for a royal visit, but El Centro in the Californian desert will be home for the prince for the next few months.

The third in line to the throne has already learnt to fly the British Army's Apache attack helicopter back in the UK.

In the hot and dusty environs near America's west coast, he will be learning how to fly it in combat. Temperatures in October commonly top 32C (90F). Ideal conditions for preparing for the front line in Afghanistan.

The prince, or Captain Wales as he will be known at the US Naval Air Facility, is one of 20 Army Air Corps pilots taking part in Exercise Crimson Eagle.

Over the next eight weeks he will learn to fly tactically during the day and night. For the first time he will fire the Apache's hellfire missiles, its rockets and 30mm cannon on the vast military ranges in California and nearby Arizona.

Rather appropriately, the El Centro base is where they filmed Top Gun - but Captain Wales is not Tom Cruise and he will not be getting any movie star treatment.

Mexico ban

The US Navy's Commanding Officer, Captain Devon Jones, said: "He has his training to do as a volunteer combat war fighter, so we'll be treating him as all of our visiting British personnel".

That is just how the prince wants it, according to Clarence House.

On the base, Harry will be able to make use of the swimming pool, movie theatre and gym.

Image caption RAF crews have carried out pre-deployment training in El Centro before postings to Afghanistan

He will also be allowed, when off duty, to wander into the city of about 40,000 people, though the limited night life of El Centro will provide him with few opportunities.

Nevertheless at one of the city's few bars, Burgers and Beers, they are already waiting in eager anticipation to catch sight of a real British prince.

Most people express admiration that a member of the Royal Family is willing to fight for his country.

One woman - Geena - said his arrival had been "all over Twitter and Facebook" and joked that "everybody is hoping they'll be the next princess diary stories".

Nearby as he tucks into his burger, Raymond said his wife was more excited than him, adding that all the girls he knew in nearby San Diego were going "nuts".

Though one customer asked: "What's the big deal?"

San Diego and Las Vegas may prove bigger attractions for the prince, who is known to like a party.

Harry's commanding officer in the US, Lt Col Peter Bullen, said that as with other British pilots who have taken part in the exercise, he will be allowed to visit the gambling mecca, as long as he funds it and if it "floats his boat".

Only Mexico across the border is out of bounds.

'Combat ready'

Image caption Lt Col Peter Bullen says the training is designed to get pilots "combat ready"

El Centro may be close to the climate and geography of Afghanistan, but it is still in many ways a long way from the harsh realities of Helmand province.

But the prince has made no secret of his desire to return to the front line - and that is why he is here.

He has spoken of his frustrations of having to leave his comrades back in 2008 when he was serving on the ground as a forward air controller - calling in air strikes in support of British troops.

When news of that deployment became public knowledge, he was forced to leave early.

Training in the air as an Apache pilot gives him the chance to go back. Col Bullen said that if the prince passes his training - and not everyone does - he would be deemed "limited combat ready".

He would still have to be assigned a squadron and carry out more training back in the UK.

When asked whether the prince could be one step closer to returning to Helmand, Col Bullen replied "absolutely that's what the course is for".

The final decision on whether Captain Wales will return to Afghanistan will be taken by the military top brass.

Buckingham Palace and the prime minister would also have to be consulted. But by the end of Exercise Crimson Eagle, the prince will be one step closer to his goal of returning to Afghanistan.

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