The UK’s Carrier Strike Group (CSG) has achieved a major milestone ahead of its first operational deployment this year.
The CSG has reached Initial Operating Capability (IOC), meaning all elements of the group from fighter jets to radar systems to anti-ship weapons have been successfully brought together and operated.
Both the air and naval elements of the CSG have now met this milestone, which includes qualified pilots and ground crews being held at short notice for carrier-based operations and trained to handle weapons and maintain the equipment.
Another marker of success at this stage includes the ability to deploy Anti-Submarine Warfare capabilities such as frigates and destroyers, as well as both fixed and rotary wing aircraft including Merlin helicopters to operate alongside the carrier.
Defence Minister Jeremy Quin said: «This is a hugely significant milestone for HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08), the Royal Navy and the whole country. This achievement is a testament to the determination of our service personnel and industry workforce who have delivered this first-rate military capability, a capability held by only a handful of nations. I wish the entire Carrier Strike Group well ahead of their first operational deployment this year».
Following the success of the NATO Joint Warrior Exercises last autumn, the Carrier Strike Group capability has reached the key IOC milestone for the programme on schedule.
The multinational deployment in 2020 focussed on incorporating all elements of the CSG with 13 of the UK’s allies including Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Latvia, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Turkey, Japan, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the U.S. Exercise Joint Warrior saw the largest number of aircraft on a British Royal Navy carrier since 1983, as well as the most F-35B Lightning II jets at sea across the globe.
Full Operating Capability (FOC) for the CSG is expected by December 2023.
Britain’s new aircraft carrier has «eclipsed aspirations», successfully completing two months of intensive fast jet trials in the USA.
F-35B Lightning II stealth fighters have left HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) after eight weeks flying on and off the 65,000-tonne warship, helping to write the «operator’s manual» so the jets can fly from her deck on front-line operations.
The success of the Westlant 18 deployment – which has also included a very high-profile visit to New York – allows the Portsmouth-based ship to move on to operational trials next year with British-owned F-35s flown by Naval and Air Force aviators based at RAF Marham.
Two jets and four test pilots, based at the Integrated Test Force (ITF) at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland, joined the carrier in late September.
Since then they have performed 200 short take-offs, 187 vertical landings, and 15 «rolling» landings – a technique unique to the UK which allows a Lightning to return to the carrier with a heavier payload – and dropped 54 dummy bombs into the Atlantic.
«This has been one of the most comprehensive flight trials at sea ever conducted», said RAF Squadron Leader Andy Edgell, ITF chief test pilot. «I am very proud to have professionally executed every aspect of this trial and deliver for the UK a capability that can be exploited for years to come».
Naval aviator Commander Nathan Gray – the first person to land a jet on HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) – added: «It has been phenomenal to get through a high profile with such success. This is due to the skills of the designers of both the F-35 and the ship herself. It is beyond question that without the vision of the Royal Navy and the unfailing support of the ship’s company we would not have achieved what we have done today. I am proud to have delivered this future and enduring operational capability».
Weapons experts loaded various configurations of bombs and missiles on to the Lightnings, making use of HMS Queen Elizabeth’s unique automated munitions magazine.
ITF scientists recorded masses of data from the ship and the jets; that data will determine the limits (weather, humidity, pitch and roll of the ship, aircraft weight) at which the Lightnings can safely launch from and land back on HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) and her sister HMS Prince of Wales (R09).
«It goes without saying that this was a phenomenally successful shipboard detachment», said Andrew Maack, ITF Chief Test Engineer and Site Director. «I could not be more proud of the collective team effort between the ITF and the HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) crew to make this happen».
Captain Nick Cooke Priest, HMS Queen Elizabeth’s new Commanding Officer who was in command for the second phase of this current set of F-35 trials said this autumn’s trials had marked «a significant milestone on the Royal Navy’s journey back to big deck carrier operations. The schedule has been busy and challenging and the results have eclipsed the aspiration; this success is largely due to the exceptional relationship that exists between the ship and her embarked staff, and the scientists, engineers and pilots of the F-35 Integrated Test Force, all of whom have shown exceptional professionalism, dedication and drive».
He continued: «This deployment has however delivered far more than the initial integration of fixed wing aircraft with the ship. It has re-introduced the true value that carrier capabilities bring to the UK and her allies, it has deepened our relationship with our closest ally, demonstrated our nation’s engineering prowess and cemented our commitment to the future as a global navy».
The carrier is now spending time in Norfolk, Virginia, offloading the ITF team and their equipment before heading back to Portsmouth in time for Christmas.
«She will come home», said Carrier Strike Group Commander Commodore Michael Utley, with a real buzz on board. «This is positive time to be a Royal Navy sailor, a positive time to be Royal Navy aircrew and a positive time for the UK-US partnership in providing a greater depth of security across the globe».
Royal Navy Commander Nathan Gray and Royal Air Force (RAF) Squadron Leader Andy Edgell were the first pilots to make history by landing their F-35B Lightning II stealth jets on the flight deck of Britain’s newest carrier.
Shortly afterwards, Commander Gray became the first pilot to take off using the ship’s ski ramp. The flying operations mark the start of more than 500 take-offs and landings set to take place from the warship over the next 11 weeks.
Speaking shortly after the first landing on Tuesday 25 September 2018, Commander Gray said: «No words can explain how it felt to turn the corner at 500 mph/805 km/h and see HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) awaiting the arrival of her first F-35B jets. I feel incredibly privileged. For a naval aviator it is always a special moment when you spot the carrier in the distance, hidden within a grey expanse of ocean. HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) is a floating city, home to hundreds of fellow sailors and Royal Marines, and it’s been a particularly poignant day».
Able to embark up to 24 of the supersonic jets, HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) provides the Royal Navy with a capability possessed by few others.
Squadron Leader Edgell added: «It has taken an indescribable level of dogged determination and perseverance to achieve this incredible moment. We have written a little piece of history today, but look beyond this and are focusing now on what will be an extensive period of F-35B Lightning II testing at sea».
The jets will be put through their paces over the coming weeks in a range of sea and weather conditions. Having then completed the trials, which are taking place off the east coast of the United States, the giant aircraft carrier is expected to visit New York.
The Commanding Officer of HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08), Captain Jerry Kyd, said: «I am quite emotional to be here in HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) seeing the return of fixed-wing aviation, having been the captain of the aircraft carrier which launched the last Harrier at sea nearly eight years ago. The regeneration of big deck carriers able to operate globally, as we are proving here on this deployment, is a major step forward for the United Kingdom’s defence and our ability to match the increasing pace of our adversaries. The first touch-downs of these impressive stealth jets shows how the United Kingdom will continue to be world leaders at sea for generations to come».
HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) left her home port of Portsmouth in August, crossing the Atlantic to conduct the flying trials as well as training with the U.S. Navy.
The deployment has also provided an opportunity for the UK’s Carrier Strike Group (CSG) headquarters team to sharpen their skills in a task group, having been joined on the deployment by Type 23 frigate HMS Monmouth (F235), and a U.S. Arleigh Burke-class destroyer the USS Lassen (DDG-82).
More than 1,400 sailors, flight crew and Royal Marines have been working on board the carrier during her deployment.
Commodore Andrew Betton, the commander of the UK’s Carrier Strike Group, said: «The Queen Elizabeth-class carriers have been specifically designed and built to operate the F-35B Lightning II, offering an immensely flexible and potent combination to deliver military effect around the world. Conducting these trials is a critical and exciting step on this journey and I applaud the many thousands of civilian and military personnel who have played a part in bringing the strategic ambition to reality».
The Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) and HMS Prince of Wales (R09), will project British military power across the globe for the next half a century. Construction work continues at a pace on board HMS Prince of Wales (R09), the second aircraft carrier in the class, which nears completion at the Rosyth shipbuilding yard.
They will be used to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, strengthen defence relationships with our nation’s allies, and support British armed forces deployed around the world.
In recent operations, U.S. aircraft carriers including the USS George HW Bush (CVN-77) and USS Harry S Truman (CVN-75) have played a central role in the Gulf and Mediterranean, conducting strikes against Daesh in Iraq and Syria.
HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) is on track to deploy on global operations from 2021. Meanwhile, the UK has now taken delivery of 16 out of a planned 138 F-35 jets as part of its world-leading fleet of military aircraft for use by the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.
Eight years since a British aircraft carrier last flew a fast jet from her decks, the 65,000-tonne carrier will embark two F-35B Lightning II test aircraft, from the Integrated Test Force (ITF), based out of Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, Maryland.
Around 200 supporting staff, including pilots, engineers, maintainers and data analysts will be joined by two «orange wired» test aircraft, belonging to the ITF, which are expected to conduct 500 take offs and landings during their 11-week period at sea.
The aim of these initial, or «developmental» trials are to ascertain, through the specially equipped aircraft and sensors around the ship, the operating parameters of the aircraft and ship, in a range of conditions. Similar successful trials were conducted by HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) at sea earlier this year for Rotary Wing aircraft.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: «HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) is a true statement of our national power, and the whole country can be proud to see this magnificent symbol of our engineering prowess and international ambition leaving port to sail onto the world stage. Her voyage to America not only shows her global reach, but strengthens our special relationship with the U.S. Forces who we have worked hand-in-hand with on this iconic programme. As she sails along the east coast of the USA, she will signal our determination to keep fighting alongside our allies in all corners of an ever more complex and uncertain world».
Four F-35B Lightning II developmental test pilots, who are members of the ITF, will embark to fly the aircraft; three British, one American. The British personnel comprise a Royal Navy Commander, a Squadron Leader from the Royal Air Force (RAF) and one civilian test pilot. They will be joined by a Major from the U.S. Marine Corps.
The trials follow the recent arrival into the UK of the first joint Royal Navy, Royal Air Force F-35B jets, based at RAF Marham. «Operational testing», utilising British F-35B Lightning II aircraft are scheduled to take place on board HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) next year.
The deployment, known as «WESTLANT 18», will be the first-time HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) will have sailed across the Atlantic. As well as the vital deck trials, it will also involve exercises to prove the ability to operate with other nations’ maritime and aviation assets, as well as the landing of Royal Marines and their equipment ashore in the United States, to conduct training with their U.S. counterparts.
HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) Commanding Officer, Captain Jerry Kyd said: «This deployment to the United States will be another first for my ship. Crossing a major ocean with 1500 sailors, aircrew and Marines embarked and the spectre of the first F-35B Lightning II landing on the deck in September is very exciting for us all. It has been an incredible journey since we left Rosyth just over a year ago and we are all looking forward to this next, seminal chapter in HMS Queen Elizabeth’s life».
As the ship’s work-up continues, so too does the regeneration of the UK’s Carrier Strike capability. Commander UK Carrier Strike Group (COMUKCSG), Commodore Andrew Betton, will take command of the ship and other units of his task group, embarking in HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) with his Carrier Strike Group headquarters staff.
He said: «As a critical step towards delivering the UK’s new Carrier Strike Group, this deployment demonstrates the astonishing collaborative effort that will enable the new F-35B Lightning II jets to fly routinely from our Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers. At the heart of the Maritime Task Group, the aircraft carrier is well protected and sustained, ready to operate around the world as a potent and exceptionally flexible instrument of our foreign policy. These first F-35B Lightning II embarked trials in a UK aircraft carrier are not only key to future operational success, but represent an iconic moment for the modern Royal Navy».
The ship will conduct trials in UK waters over the coming days, before departing for the USA later this month. She will be joined by Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Tiderace (A137) and Plymouth-based type-23 frigate HMS Monmouth (F235), as well as Merlin Mk-2 helicopters from 820 Naval Air Squadron, Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Culdrose, Mk-4 Merlins from 845 Naval Air Squadron, RNAS Yeovilton and a contingent of Royal Marines from 42 Commando, Plymouth.
A troop of Royal Marines from 42 Commando in Plymouth has embarked in the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier to prove the process of launching them by helicopter to conduct operations ashore.
Marines from Lima Company and supporting elements from HMS Queen Elizabeth’s Ship’s Company have been called to ‘Assault Stations’ for the very first time, on exercise.
The troops were processed from their accommodation, through the ship, collecting kit, including weapons and ammunition in a carefully orchestrated process, in through the massive hangar and onto the flight deck to simulate being launched ashore by helicopter.
The Royal Navy’s amphibious assault capability has to now been provided by assault ships HMS Bulwark (L15) and HMS Albion (L14) and the Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH), HMS Ocean (L12).
Whilst HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) does not have the surface assault capability with landing craft of the specialist ships, her four-acre flight deck provides plenty of scope from which to project manpower and equipment ashore using the variety of helicopters she will be able to host.
The ship is currently at sea conducting trials which will determine the operating parameters of several different helicopters, including Merlin Mk2, Mk3 and Mk4, Merlin Crowsnest, Chinook, Apache and Wildcat.
Speaking as Assault Stations were successfully completed for the first time, the Ship’s Amphibious Operations Officer (AOO), Lieutenant Colonel Mark Searight Royal Marines, explained the importance of this capability: «HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) will maintain the United Kingdom’s ability to have a forward-based strategic conventional deterrent which has the ability not only to conduct strike operations with the F-35B Lightning II, which is its primary role, but also to have an Embarked Military Force that is fully trained and ready to be projected ashore to conduct tasks that might arise. That might be soft power for defence engagement, all the way through to humanitarian and disaster relief and war fighting. This training is part of the initial work-up to achieve that».
He added: «The training has gone really well. It’s been an education to the Ship’s Company on what the LPH role will entail, and there has also been education to those who assist me to achieve aviation assault operations: Assault guides, FLYCO, the Logistics department who make sure they can sustain the operation and troops sufficiently; the ammunition personnel in the Air Engineering Department who make sure we have got the right ammunition. It’s a complex process».
Having previously served as the Area of Operations (AOO) in HMS Ark Royal (91) 10 years ago, Lieutenant Colonel Searight says the training today is as relevant as it ever was: «We are mirroring exactly what we did in our previous carriers and HMS Ocean (L12); our Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are almost identical. But there has been a degree of the Marines having to relearn some of the skills that we took for granted before our most recent land campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Marines are an adaptable force; that’s our USP as the UK’s amphibious forces. So, to ask them to spend time at sea is not a surprise or a task too far for any of them. But we’ve taken some time away from conducting major sea campaigns so this sort of training is extremely valuable».
In order for the ship to demonstrate an initial capability to operate in the Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH) role, it should be able to project Royal Marines and their equipment ashore by aviation, prove ship to shore communications, sustain the troops for the period they are ashore and recover them back to the ship on completion.
This recent ’Assault Station’ training is a step on the road towards achieving an initial LPH capability and paves the way for more complex LPH evolutions this autumn.
The UK has taken delivery of its 14th F-35B Lightning II which flew into Beaufort, South Carolina last week to take its place as part of the Lightning Fleet, set to operate from Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers and Royal Air Force (RAF) Marham.
Operated jointly by the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, the F-35 Lightning jets will be able to operate on land or embarked on the UK’s new aircraft carriers. This delivery is a significant milestone for the Lightning Programme and in particular, alongside the formal commissioning of the HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier into the Royal Navy earlier this month, demonstrates the advancement towards the establishment of the UK’s Carrier Enabled Power Projection capability.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: «This Christmas delivery is the 14th jet to join our fleet of fifth-generation F-35 fighters over in the US. The Carriers have taken centre-stage this year, and next year we look towards these aircraft joining us in Britain and taking off from HMS Queen Elizabeth’s enormous deck to undertake First of Class Flight Trials. With our famous Royal Air Force coming into its 100th anniversary, the F-35 keeps us right at the cutting-edge of combat air power».
Peter Ruddock, Chief Executive of Lockheed Martin UK said: «There are more than 500 UK companies in our supply chain who play a vital role in producing every F-35 and we are proud to have delivered the UK’s 14th aircraft on schedule. More than 260 F-35s are now flying from 14 bases around the world and we look forward to supporting the UK’s Lightning Force, as they prepare to bring their F-35s to the UK and achieve initial operational capability next year».
There are currently some 200 British personnel based at Beaufort testing the aircraft and getting them ready to arrive in the UK next summer as 617 Squadron. Preparations are also being made for First of Class Flight Trials, due to take place on HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) later next year. The programme is on schedule to achieve Initial Operating Capability from land next year with Initial Operating Capability Carrier Strike in 2020. In addition to its short take-off and vertical landing capability, the F-35B’s unique combination of stealth, cutting-edge radar, sensor technology, and electronic warfare systems brings all of the access and lethality capabilities of a fifth-generation fighter.
In 2018, the aircraft – along with the Navy and RAF pilots and ground crew – will arrive in the UK to officially stand up at RAF Marham in Norfolk. RAF Marham will be the Main Operating Base for the Lightning Force in the UK and from here, they will deploy forward to either embark on-board our Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers, or operate from Deployed Operating Bases.
Following successful trials on the land based ski-ramp design which is featured on the UK flagship, and with the RAF Marham runway infrastructure completed as part of a £250m major investment programme in preparation for the F-35 arrival, Defence Minister Harriett Baldwin earlier this year announced that the F-35 was cleared for take-off.
As the only level one partner on the F-35 programme, the UK has been working closely with the US from the outset. UK industry will provide approximately 15% by value of each F-35 to be built, which are due to total more than 3000 in number. The programme has already generated $12.9Bn worth of orders for the UK and at peak production the programme will support over 24,000 jobs in the UK.
Some milestones reached on the F-35 programme this year include:
10% production milestone reached;
Runway resurfacing at RAF Marham complete;
F-35 is cleared for take-off from HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) following successful land trials using the ski-ramp design;
Commanding Officer of 617 Sqn, Wing Commander John Butcher takes his first flight in an F-35B;
Delivery of 14th F-35.
51.2 feet/15.6 m
14.3 feet/4.36 m
35 feet/10.7 m
460 feet2/42.7 m2
Horizontal tail span
21.8 feet/6.65 m
32,300 lbs/14,651 kg
Internal fuel capacity
13,500 lbs/6,125 kg
15,000 lbs/6,800 kg
60,000 lbs class/27,215 kg
Standard internal weapons load
Two AIM-120C air-to-air missiles
Two 2,000-pound/907 kg GBU-31 JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) guided bombs
On December 7, 2017, Her Majesty The Queen has commissioned the UK’s new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) into the Royal Navy.
The Queen spoke at a ceremony in Portsmouth Naval Base this morning, attended by Her Royal Highness Princess Anne, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson and military chiefs.
In her role as the ship’s Lady Sponsor Her Majesty addressed guests before the Ship’s Commanding Officer, Captain Jerry Kyd, read the commissioning warrant.
The iconic White Ensign was then raised, symbolising the commissioning of the nation’s future flagship into the Royal Navy’s fleet.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said, «Today marks the start of a hugely significant chapter for the Royal Navy, and indeed the nation, as the future flagship is commissioned into Her Majesty’s fleet. It is an honour to witness the crowning moment of an extraordinarily busy year for the Royal Navy that has seen us name the second carrier, HMS Prince of Wales (R09), cut steel on the first Type 26 frigates and launch the National Shipbuilding Strategy».
Having successfully completed her second stage of sea trials off the south coast of England, the carrier is back alongside at her home port of Portsmouth. Over 10,000 people across the UK have contributed to the delivery of the ship under the Aircraft Carrier Alliance.
Completing final build activity and preparing for helicopter trials in the New Year, HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) will head to the United States for initial flight trials off the coast in autumn 2018. There are currently 150 Royal Navy and Royal Air Force (RAF) personnel training in the U.S. on our 13 F-35 jets.
The UK has worked closely on both the F-35 and carrier programmes with the U.S., our pre-eminent partner within NATO, enabling us to fly aircraft from each other’s ships. Both of the UK’s new carriers will be able to operate alongside NATO and coalition allies.
Admiral Sir Philip Jones, First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff, said: «In hoisting the White Ensign from HMS Queen Elizabeth today, Britain has confirmed her place among the world’s great maritime powers in the most majestic and muscular terms. The Queen Elizabeth-class carriers will sit at the heart of a modernised and emboldened Royal Navy, capable of projecting power and influence at sea, in the air, over the land and in cyberspace, and offering our nation military and political choice in an uncertain world. But our greatest strength of all is the young sailors and marines upon whose shoulders our continued security and prosperity rests. They are starting their careers as a new chapter opens for the Royal Navy – and like all those who have gone before them, they are ready to serve their Queen and Country».
Both new aircraft carriers will be able to perform a wide range of tasks, from humanitarian and disaster relief to fighting terrorism and high-end warfighting. In what has been termed, ‘the Year of the Royal Navy’ the second carrier, HMS Prince of Wales (R09), was named in Rosyth and is structurally complete.
The honour of raising the White Ensign for the first time fell to 20-year-old Able Seaman Ellie Smith, from Hull.
That moment, said Captain Jerry Kyd, announced to the world that «we are here, we have arrived». He said: «The White Ensign is synonymous with British warships and British seapower. For centuries it has said a lot about our country».
PO(ETME) Ben Kern helped bring destroyer HMS Dragon (D35) out of build before joining HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) in January. One of two section heads responsible for the high-voltage electrical system aboard, he described the occasion as the pinnacle of his career to date.
«I am serving on the biggest, most modern warship in the Navy. That’s never going to happen again. It’s been hard work and challenging to get the ship up to speed. We are the ones who are laying the foundations for everything which is yet to come. But that is also hugely rewarding. We’ve been working to this day all year, so I would say the mood aboard is buoyant».
This year the Royal Navy has also had steel cut on the first of the Type 26 frigates and Dreadnought submarines, the launch of the National Shipbuilding Strategy, provisioning for a new class of frigate, the Type 31e, float out of the fourth Astute submarine, HMS Audacious (S122), the naming of two Offshore Patrol Vessels and the arrival of our first two MARS Tankers in the UK.
Last month the Defence Secretary visited HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) for the first time while at sea, meeting the crew and thanking them for their work towards UK defence.
HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) has sailed from Portsmouth Naval Base for the first time since arriving at her home port in August.
The Royal Navy’s future flagship has embarked on the next set of sea trials to test the £3 billion ship’s capability.
Captain of Portsmouth Naval Base, Captain Bill Oliphant said: «HMS Queen Elizabeth has been in Portsmouth Naval Base for two months of planned maintenance to allow her to sail to complete her sea trials today. This period at sea will mark an extremely significant milestone in the life of the ship leading towards her acceptance into the Royal Navy at her commissioning later this year, back in her home port of Portsmouth».
HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) is expected to be at sea for the next month and will be delivered to the Royal Navy by the end of the year; an exciting finale in 2017 – «The Year of the Navy».
Her first phase of sea trials, conducted earlier this year, demonstrated the platform stability and manoeuvrability. Commanding Officer Captain Jerry Kyd, said «She was stable and strong, which is important for aviation operations from an aircraft carrier flight deck. Very quickly we were able to run her at full power and she performed extremely well».
The 65,000 tonne carrier is the biggest and most advanced warship to have ever been built by the Royal Navy and can accommodate up to 1,600 personnel, which would include a full air crew, but also provides space for embarked personnel such as Royal Marines.
The design, build and development of the Queen Elizabeth Class has been a truly national effort, involving every region in the UK.
Shipyards in six cities across the UK have constructed sections of the aircraft carriers and while many parts of the carrier arrived in Rosyth by road, the major sections needed to be transported by barge around the coast of the UK.
HMS Prince of Wales (R09), the second of the fleet’s new aircraft carriers, is in the final phases of construction in Rosyth Dockyard and is expected to be floated out of its giant dock next spring.
To date, construction of the two ships have devoured 51 million man hours – enough to keep one person occupied for more than 5,800 years.
A Merlin helicopter has landed on HMS Queen Elizabeth’s enormous flight deck – the first aircraft to ever touch down on Britain’s biggest warship.
It fell to 26-year-old pilot Lieutenant Luke Wraith from Yorkshire to set the 14-tonne helicopter safely down on the aircraft carrier, just days after she left Rosyth to begin trials in the North Sea.
He had a four-acre flight deck – almost the size of three football pitches – to aim for, where experienced aircraft handlers were waiting to guide him safely in and then lash the helicopter firmly down.
«I was pretty nervous – not about making a safe landing, but knowing that every other pilot in the Navy would watch the footage and critique it», said Lieutenant Wraith, of 820 Naval Air Squadron. «I’m actually quite surprised it ended up being me because I only got my flying wings 18 months ago – I was expecting it to be someone much more senior».
Watching the historic landing from the ship’s «aircraft control tower» – called the Flyco – in the rear of HMS Queen Elizabeth’s two islands was the man in charge of all her flying operations, Commander Mark Deller.
His team trained around the world – on simulators, on U.S. Navy carriers and on a mock-up flight deck at Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Culdrose in Cornwall – to ensure they were ready for the first helicopter.
«I sense all my team are pleased to be off the wall and back at sea, doing what we do best», Commander Deller said. «There are smiles everywhere on deck and that’s a good sign. Operating live helicopters adds another dimension to our understanding of how our flight deck behaves. We’ve proven our initial ability to operate aircraft safely. Now our focus is getting the ship and all her systems fully tested and set to work ready to commence full fixed wing flying trials next year».
Also observing was Captain Jerry Kyd, Queen Elizabeth’s first Commanding Officer. He said: «It’s an exciting and historic event which marks the beginning of the ship’s life as the nation’s flagship and the future of carrier-based aviation. It’s been a demanding but proud and exciting week for us, the ship is bustling with activity and it’s been fantastic to see this extend now to the flight deck just four days after sailing».
The squadron will be assigned to HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) throughout the carrier’s 50-year lifespan, protecting the ship against any submarine threats, and flying personnel and equipment on and off.
Normally based at Culdrose, the squadron is currently operating from RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland. It has been training for more than 18 months for its mission with the 65,000-tonne warship.
For the historical record, there were five people in the first aircraft to land on the new carrier. Lieutenant Wraith was joined in the cockpit by his squadron’s senior pilot Lieutenant Commander Steve Moseley, observer Lieutenant Chris Bugg and aircrewmen Petty Officers Nigel Stockdale and Jonathan Holding.
«To have a ‘first’ in your log book is very special, but to have the first landing on the largest warship ever built for the Royal Navy is something very special indeed», said Lieutenant Commander Moseley, a graduate of the U.S. Navy’s Test Pilot School. «We were the final link in the chain in a process that has involved thousands of people all working very hard towards this iconic occasion. The challenge for us was to be prepared for any eventuality, but also to have faith in the team whose job it has been to ensure that carrier aviation is as safe as possible».
Stepping back and letting his team get on with the task in hand was 820’s Commanding Officer Commander Jon Holroyd. «For me, it’s a very humbling moment, filled with pride – pride leading a team of such capable individuals, from the maintenance team who ensure the aircraft are prepared and ready, the survival equipment team who ensure the aircrew are best supported and the logistical effort that makes the team work».
Young pilot makes history with first deck landing on HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08)
According to The Daily Telegraph, Britain’s largest ever warship is due to squeeze out of its dockyard for the first time as early as Monday afternoon, as the ship heads out on sea trials.
The 65,000 ton HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) is expected to slip out of Rosyth dockyard and into open water through an exit with only 14-inch/35.5-cm clearance on either side and 20 inches/50.8 cm of water under the keel.
The aircraft carrier will then edge along the Forth under three bridges, including the landmark rail bridge, with a little over six feet to spare.
The trials mark the latest milestone in the nearly decade-long building of the Royal Navy’s two carriers, at a cost of more than £6bn. The Navy is also preparing for the warship’s first appearance to attract a concerted Russian spying effort, with submarines, ships and planes try to get a good look at the UK’s new flagship.
A Royal Navy warship is expected to escort HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08), while shore-based helicopters look out for submarines as commanders try out the warship in the North Sea and Moray Firth.
Commander Fiona Percival, head of logistics on the ship said: «The Russians will come and look, but they look at everything».
Commander Mark Deller, commander air, said the ship would be accompanied by a frigate or destroyer.
He said: «We will go where it’s best to go and not where it’s best for a Soviet nuclear to go, so the reality is we can probably look after ourselves as long as our escort is in the right place at the right time. You don’t have to hang around and endure it, you can move away and go somewhere else».
Sailors and engineers have worked round the clock getting the vessel ready. A total of 1,000 sailors and contractors will be onboard for the first six weeks of testing. Crew have spent hours each day carrying out safety drills for fires, flooding and personnel overboard. More than 650 doors and hatches have been checked to ensure they are watertight and fire safe.