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US Airforce Tries to Clip RAF Pilot's Whiskers

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When RAF pilot Flight Lieutenant Chris Ball was sent on an exchange posting with the US Air Force in Afghanistan, he was told to trim his splendid handlebar moustache. Under US Air Force rules, moustaches should not extend downwards beyond the upper lip, or sideways beyond the corner of the mouth. Flt Lt Ball's finely waxed plumage measures a full six inches from tip to tip, in true RAF tradition.

Flt Lt Ball, who operates an F-15 with U.S.A.F. 366 Fighter Squadron, took a noble stand on the issue: "After I was told to trim it down, I had to dig out the Queen's Regulations to prove I was not breaching our own code." He found that RAF Regulations state that a moustache should not extend below the edge of the mouth. However, there are no rules on how wide it can be. Flt Lt Ball measured his whiskers and found they did not contravene the rules. He took his findings to the general of his unit, and after a "frank exchange of views" was allowed to keep his pride and joy.

The Ministry of Defence agreed that juggling the UK's military regulations with those of foreign forces during exchanges can be "tricky". An MoD spokesman commented: "In this case, simple things like the time to turn up to work and go home would come under U.S.A.F. regulations. But attire, facial hair and discipline would always follow RAF rules." In 2007 the RAF relaxed its restrictions on facial hair for men serving in Afghanistan, because beards are thought to be a sign of status in the country.

"We are delighted with this result," said Flt Lt Ball, his hirsute appendage and his dignity still intact. "It's one in the eye for these people - a moustache is all about individuality." The tradition of facial hair in the RAF dates back to the Second World War, as Flt Lt Ball discovered: "A lot of these chaps signing up to fly were pretty young. A moustache would make them look a lot older and more manly."