Queen Elizabeth Carrier sets sail from Rosyth for the first time (26/06/17) for first stage of sea trials:
The Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier set sail from Rosyth dockyard for the first time on Monday 26th June 2017.
It was a four-hour operation to move her from the basin into the Forth, beginning just before 2pm. Around midnight, at low tide, she then sailed under the Forth bridges.
She sailed into the North Sea and Moray Firth proving all of her systems, such as speed, manoeuvrability, power and propulsion, returning back to Rosyth for further testing and maintenance. During the trials the Carrier was escorted by HMS Sutherland and HMS Iron Duke, both Type 23 Frigates.
Helicopter flight trials will begin later, before F-35B Lightning II flight trials begin off the east coast of the United States in late 2018.
Queen Elizabeth Carrier arrives at her new home port of Portsmouth (16/08/17):
The Queen Elizabeth Aircraft Carrier made her way down the western coast of Britain and arrived at her home port of Portsmouth on the morning of Wednesday 16th of August 2017. 820 Naval Air Squadron, with their Merlin HM.2 helicopters, were on board HMS Queen Elizabeth as she sailed into Portsmouth harbour. New facilities and infrastructure have been built at Portsmouth, and the harbour has been dredged to accommodate the two new aircraft carriers.
Queen Elizabeth Carrier departs from Portsmouth for second stage of sea trials (30/10/17):
The Queen Elizabeth Carrier departed from her home base at Portsmouth, on Monday 30th October 2017, to begin the second stage of trials which aims to test her Mission Systems.
HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier Commissioned into the Royal Navy (07/10/17):
HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier was commissioned into the Royal Navy, on Thursday 7th December 2017, by the Queen. The monarch boarded the aircraft carrier in Portsmouth to see the Royal Navy White Ensign raised on the vessel for the first time. Princess Anne, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson and First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones also attended. read more here.
HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier sets sail for helicopter trials at sea (02/02/18):
HMS Queen Elizabeth sailed on Friday 2nd February 2018 to begin official first of class rotary wing flying trials while at sea. Over the previous two weeks a Merlin helicopter from 820 NAS had been used on the carrier, at her home base at Portsmouth, to test various systems such as communication, refuelling, securing the helicopter, as well as moving it around with the mini tractor and into the hangar via the lifts. Two Chinook helicopters, from the Aircraft Test and Evaluation facility at MOD Boscombe Down, embarked on HMS Queen Elizabeth on Friday 2nd February 2018 to take part in the helicopter trials at sea. The two Chinooks were later joined later by two Merlin Mk2, also from from the Aircraft Test and Evaluation facility at MOD Boscombe Down, with all four aircraft carrying specialist testing equipment. Another two Culdrose based 820 NAS Merlin HM2 helicopters, with a 70-strong detachment, embarked onto the carrier on Monday 5th February 2018 to provide force protection during the trials. The aim of the trials is to test various systems and collect data about the landings, take-offs and manoeuvres in different wind and sea conditions before declaring that the ship can safely operate these helicopters.
HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier arrives in Gibraltar (09/02/18):
HMS Queen Elizabeth arrived in Gibraltar on Friday 9th February 2018 where she conducted routine logistics including refuelling and taking on supplies before continuing her helicopter trials at sea on Tuesday 13th February. The carrier is being escorted by the Type 23 frigate, HMS Somerset and helicopter trials will continue in the eastern Atlantic.
HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier embarks Royal Marines and Fixed-wing pilots (February 2018):
A troop of Royal Marines, from 42 Commando, embarked on HMS Queen Elizabeth to prove the process of launching them by helicopter, to conduct operations ashore. They 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. Four fixed wing pilots have also joined HMS Queen Elizabeth as she prepares to receive the F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter later this year.
HMS Queen Elizabeth & new supply ship RFA Tidespring attempted to conduct a Replenishment at Sea (RAS) (February 2018):
RFA Tidespring is the first of a class of four Military Afloat Reach & Sustainability (MARS) Tankers, specifically designed to provide fuel water and stores to the Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers. A full First of Class replenishment was abandoned due to bad weather, but coming together, just metres apart, was an important moment for both ships and will provide useful data needed for all the vessels in each class.
HMS Queen Elizabeth arrived back home to Portsmouth following successful helicopter trials:
HMS Queen Elizabeth arrived back home to Portsmouth on the morning of 27th February 2018 following her successful first of class rotary wing trials in the Atlantic. A thousand deck landings have been carried out in a range of sea and weather conditions with the specially equipped helicopters. There were 450 deck landings by Chinook and 540 by Merlin helicopters. More details here.
Queen Elizabeth Carrier Tracker (MarineTraffic website):
Under the flightdeck are a further nine decks, including a large hangar deck which is large enough to accommodate up to twenty fixed and rotary wing aircraft, and two lifts which can each raise two F-35B Lightning II from the hangar deck to the flight deck in 60 seconds.
Carrier Air Group:
Both carriers will be completed as originally planned, in a Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) configuration, and will use the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II aircraft. They are designed to carry up to 36 F-35B aircraft and four helicopters although they have the capacity to carry many more aircraft than this. Typically the amount and the type of aircraft carried will depend on the carrier's mission. As well as the F-35B aircraft, there will also be fourteen Merlin HM2 helicopters available with nine anti-submarine Merlin HM2 and up to five Merlin HM2 fitted with Crowsnest for airbourne early warning. Alternatively a Littoral Manoeuvre package could include a mix of Royal Navy Commando Helicopter Force Merlin HC4, Wildcat AH1, RAF Chinooks, and Army Air Corps Apache helicopters. Below are the types of aircraft that will most likely be carried:
Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II:
The F-35B Lightning II is the Short Take-off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant. The other two F-35 variants are the F-35A Lightning II which is a conventional take off and landing variant, and the F-35C Lightning II which is a carrier-based CATOBAR (Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery) variant. As the Queen Elizabeth class of aircraft carrier does not feature a CATOBAR configuration but instead has a ski jump then the F-35B Lightning II STOVL variant is to be used.
The F-35B is a fifth-generation, single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth, multi-role combat aircraft. It is designed to perform ground attack and air defense missions.
The Royal Air Force (RAF) and Fleet Air Arm (FAA) will jointly operate the F-35B Lightning II, which will be based at RAF Marham from 2018, and the base is currently undergoing enhanced infrastructure to support these aircraft. The F-35B will be operated by 617 Squadron RAF and 809 Naval Air Squadron (Fleet Air Arm), as well as three further unnamed squadrons. These Squadrons will have a mix of RAF and Royal Navy personnel and both will deploy aboard the new Royal Navy Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers. Currently the UK has ten F-35B aircraft (17 Sqn) being used for Operation and Evaluation in the USA.
In November 2015, the government announced its commitment to a full order of 138 F-35 aircraft, with 24 available for carrier duties by 2023. The UK currently has 10 F-35s (now 15) in the USA which are being used for testing, with another 14 on order, and 42 (24 fighters and 18 training aircraft) to be fast-tracked by 2023.
F-35B Lightning II Squadrons:
• 17 Squadron RAF Operation and Evaluation (Edwards AFB, USA) - F-35B Lightning II.
• 617 Squadron RAF (To be formed at RAF Marham) - F-35B Lightning II.
• 809 Naval Air Squadron (To be formed at RAF Marham) - F-35B Lightning II.
• Unnamed Squadron RAF (To be formed at RAF Marham) - F-35B Lightning II.
• Unnamed Squadron Naval Air Squadron (To be formed at RAF Marham) - F-35B Lightning II.
• 207 OCU Squadron (To be formed at RAF Marham) - F-35B Lightning II.
At the end of 2009, it was announced that the Royal Air Force would transfer its Merlin helicopters to the Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) who were retiring their Sea King helicopters in 2016. Twenty five Merlin HC3 helicopters were acquired by the Commando Helicopter Force, who are based at RNAS Yeovilton, but they needed to be made suitable for shipboard operations. Seven helicopters were upgraded to HC3i (i for interim) which included folding rotors. The Merlin HC4 will be fully upgraded with folding rotors, and similar avionics to the Merlin HM2. Commando Helicopter Force use these helicopters in support of 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines and other force elements.
The Falklands War, in 1982, proved that an Airbourne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft is essential to provide a vital intelligence, surveillance and tracking system, capable of detecting any potential threats at sea. Presently, this job is done by the Sea King ASaC.7 helicopter, based at RNAS Culdrose, which is due to retire in September 2018, but this will be replaced by Crowsnest, a tactical sensor suite which can be fitted to any Royal Navy Merlin HM2 helicopter. Ten Crowsnest pods are planned and the system is expected to have initial operating capability (IOC) in 2019. Until the Crowsnest system is available, a small force of Sea King ASaC.7 helicopters will remain in service with 849 Naval Air Squadron after the final withdrawal of the remainder of the Royal Navy's Sea Kings.
Merlin & Sea King Squadrons:
• 814 Naval Air Squadron (RNAS Culdrose) - Merlin HM.2.
• 820 Naval Air Squadron (RNAS Culdrose) - Merlin HM.2.
• 824 Naval Air Squadron OCU (RNAS Culdrose) - Merlin HM.2.
• 829 Naval Air Squadron (RNAS Culdrose) - Merlin HM.2.
• 845 Naval Air Squadron CHF (RNAS Yeovilton) - Merlin HC.3A.
• 846 Naval Air Squadron CHF (RNAS Yeovilton) - Merlin HC.3i.
• 849 Naval Air Squadron (RNAS Culdrose) - Sea King ASaC.7.
The Wildcat HMA2, like the Merlin HM2, is used on Royal Navy ships for ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare), ASuW (Anti-Surface Warfare), utility and search & rescue. The Wildcat HMA2 is much smaller and lighter than the Merlin HMA2, and lacks the Merlin's range, but its smaller size and agility is useful for operating from the decks of smaller ships.
The British Army operate the Wildcat AH1 which performs a range of tasks on the battlefield including reconnaissance, command and control, transportation of troops and material, and the provision of force protection. It is a much more powerful helicopter than the Lynx, which it has replaced, enabling it to operate in extreme conditions and at high altitudes.
• 825 Naval Air Squadron (RNAS Yeovilton) - Wildcat HMA.2.
• 847 Naval Air Squadron CHF (RNAS Yeovilton) - Wildcat AH.1.
• 652 Squadron AAC (RNAS Yeovilton) - Wildcat AH.1
This versatile support helicopter can be armed with crew served weapons to provide self-defence, and can be operated from land or ship in such diverse environments as the Arctic, jungle and desert. Weapons can include two M134 six-barrelled Miniguns, one in each front side window, and an M60D machine gun on the ramp. The Chinook is well equipped with defensive aids and has a Radar Warning Receiver, an Ultraviolet and Doppler Missile Approach Warning System, infrared jammers and chaff and flare dispensers, which can be manually or automatically fired.
The RAF Chinook fleet is the largest outside the United States and is based at RAF Odiham which is home to the UK Chinook Force and operates three Chinook squadrons, 7 Squadron, 18 Squadron and 27 Squadron.
• 7 Squadron RAF (RAF Odiham) - Chinook.
• 18 Squadron RAF (RAF Odiham) - Chinook.
• 27 Squadron RAF (RAF Odiham) - Chinook.
In addition to the distinctive Longbow radar located above the rotor blades, this aircraft is equipped with a day TV system, thermal imaging sight and direct view optics.
The UK currently operates a modified version of the Apache Longbow, initially called the Westland WAH-64 Apache, it is designated the Apache AH1 by the British Army. Westland built 67 WAH-64 Apaches under license from Boeing and they were produced from 1998 to 2004. The UK Ministry of Defence announced that fifty of the UK's WAH-64 Mk 1 fleet will be re-manufactured to AH-64E Apache Guardian standard, with the first UK helicopters due off the US production line in early 2020 and will begin entering service with the British Army in 2022.
3 Regiment, Army Air Corps:
• 653 Squadron AAC (Wattisham Airfield) - Apache AH1
• 662 Squadron AAC (Wattisham Airfield) - Apache AH1
• 663 Squadron AAC (Wattisham Airfield) - Apache AH1
4 Regiment, Army Air Corps:
• 656 Squadron AAC (Wattisham Airfield) - Apache AH1
• 664 Squadron AAC (Wattisham Airfield) - Apache AH1