The Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier set sail from Rosyth dockyard on Monday 26th June 2017.
She left dock to start two years of sea trials. 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 will now spend six weeks in the North Sea and Moray Firth proving all of her systems, in a series of trials, returning back to Rosyth for further testing and maintenance, before heading back out to sea for a second stage of trials. Later in the year she will head to her new home at Portsmouth.
Helicopter flight trials will begin later this year (2017), before F-35B Lightning II flight trials begin off the east coast of the United States in October 2018.
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. 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 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 enter service in 2020.
• 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.
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