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King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s Military Legacy: From Royal Cadet to F-5 Instructor

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When His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn ascended to the throne, he took on the powerful role of the ex-officio head of the armed forces—the army, navy, and air force—as laid out by the constitution and royal tradition. With a robust military education and a background deeply rooted in military matters, the Crown Prince’s keen interest in the armed forces since childhood made this honor truly deserved.

As a young prince, his fascination with military affairs was palpable. He frequently visited military units, always displaying a heartfelt concern for the welfare of soldiers and policemen. His educational journey started in Thailand and then took him to King’s Mead School in Sussex, England, followed by Millfield School in Somerset, England. He continued his education at King’s School in North Parramatta, Sydney, Australia, where he embraced cadet training between 1970 and 1971.

In 1972, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn enrolled at Canberra’s Royal Military College, Duntroon, later pursuing a bachelor of arts degree at the University of New South Wales’ faculty for military studies. This program, integrated with Duntroon, offered bachelor courses in arts, science, and engineering, blending military and academic rigor. He successfully graduated in 1976.

On January 9, 1975, he served as a staff officer at the army’s Directorate of Intelligence. From January to October 1976, he received a Defense Ministry scholarship for advanced military training at the Special Air Service Regiment in Perth, Western Australia. This training focused on unconventional warfare tactics and advanced navigation.

With a penchant for flying, HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn became a qualified military pilot, amassing substantial flying experience. Between June and July 1980, he attended a utility helicopter flying course (Bell UH-1H and Bell UH-1N) offered by Bell Helicopter, earning 250 flight hours. That same year, from September to October, he undertook a helicopter gunship flying course (Bell UH-1H) with the Royal Thai Army, accumulating 54 flight hours.

From 1980 to 1981, he joined a fixed-wing aircraft flight training program for the SIAI-Marchetti SF 260 MT aircraft, logging 172 flight hours. His flight training repertoire further expanded from 1982 to 1983, when he completed a US Air Force (USAF) conversion course for the F-5 fighter (Special) Class 83 ATW and an advanced fighter training course Class 83 AVW at Williams Air Force Base in Arizona, boasting over 2,000 flight hours and several other training courses. His adeptness in modern flying techniques and theoretical knowledge shone brightly when he topped an air tactical operations competition at an air force gunnery range in Lop Buri’s Chai Badan district on April 1, 1987.

On May 4, 1994, he ascended to the role of flight instructor for the F-5 E/F fighter plane. Fast forward to July 12, 2012, and the Crown Prince was at the helm of a Thai Airways International charity flight. This special flight, TG 8866, transported VIP guests to pay respects to Lord Buddha’s relics in Khon Kaen, commemorating his 60th birthday on July 28 of that year. The flight was organized to raise funds for an educational scholarship foundation, highlighting his continual dedication to both the armed forces and charitable causes.

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