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.
HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier sets sail for second phase of helicopter trials at sea (11/06/18):
HMS Queen Elizabeth set sail on 11th June 2018, after 13 weeks of planned maintenance tasks, at her home port of Portsmouth. It is believed that she will now conduct further helicopter trials, this time with the Wildcat and Apache aircraft. HMS Queen Elizabeth made its first replenishment at sea with RFA Tidespring on the 21st June 2018. The tanker 'RFA Tidespring' is one of four built for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary to support HMS Queen Elizabeth and her sister HMS Prince of Wales around the world.
HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier sails to the United States for F-35 trials (August-September 2018):
HMS Queen Elizabeth set sail from Portsmouth, on Saturday 18th August 2018 to cross the Atlantic and carry out a series of trials with the F-35B Lightning II. She arrived at Mayport in Florida, on Wednesday 5th september, for the first port call of the Westlant18 deployment, to take on supplies and will then be joined by two F-35B Lightning II test aircraft, belonging to the Integrated Test Force (ITF) and based at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland. The specially equipped (orange wired) F-35B test aircraft will gather data for post-flight analysis, while conducting 500 take offs and landings on the carrier, during their 11-week period at sea.
Accompanying HMS Queen Elizabeth is HMS Monmouth (a type 23 frigate). On board the aircraft carrier will be Merlin HM2 (820 NAS) and Merlin HC4 (845 NAS) helicopters as well as a contingent of Royal Marines from 42 Commando. RFA Tiderace (one of the new fast fleet tankers) will also meet up with the aircraft carrier later.
HMS Queen Elizabeth arrived in Norfolk, Virginia, on 17th September 2018, after she avoided Hurricane Florence which has lashed North and South Carolina and Virginia with strong winds and heavy rain. She will now load the equipment and personnel required to conduct first of class flying trials with test F-35B Lightning fighter jets, which are based at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.
F-35 Lightning jets land on HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time on Tuesday 25th September 2018. Royal Navy Commander Nathan Gray and RAF Squadron Leader Andy Edgell were the first pilots to make history by landing their F-35 Lightning stealth jets on the flight deck of Britain's newest carrier. 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 deployment has also provided an opportunity for the UK's Carrier Strike Group headquarters team to sharpen their skills in a task group, having been joined on the deployment by Type 23 frigate HMS Monmouth, and a US Arleigh Burke-class destroyer the USS Lassen.
HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier fitted with Phalanx & other weapons (February 2019):
Queen Elizabeth returned home to Portsmouth after F-35B flight trials in the USA on Monday 10th December 2018. The carrier will now be fitted with 3x Phalanx Close-In Weapons Systems (CIWS) for use as an anti-aircraft and anti-missile defence. She also carries 30mm Automated Small Calibre Guns and Miniguns for use against fast attack craft.
HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier returns to Rosyth for planned maintenance (April 2019):
HMS Queen Elizabeth returned to Rosyth Dockyard, in April 2019, where she was originally pieced together, for a planned inspection, in dry dock. This routine maintenance will include changing many of the large underwater valves, inspecting the rudders, propellers and stabilisers, as well as cleaning and touching up the underwater paint scheme. HMS Queen Elizabeth should then not have to dry dock again for another six years. Meanwhile, the second aircraft carrier, HMS Prince of Wales is scheduled to leave Rosyth, for the first time, later in 2019.
Apache Gunship trials (June 2019):
HMS Queen Elizabeth leaves Rosyth Dockyard and begins three days of trials for the AAC Apache helicopter gunship starting on the 3rd June 2019. During a busy three days, they are performing various tasks from the basics of stowing the gunship securely to carrying out maintenance, refuelling the helicopter, the safe handling and loading of weapons and ammunition.
HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier sets sail to the East Coast of the United States (August 2019):
The Queen Elizabeth Aircraft Carrier set sail from Portsmouth on 30th August 2019 at 12.20pm to deploy to the East Coast of the United States to conduct operational trials with British F-35B aircraft as well as Merlin helicopters. Other ships sailing with her include a Type 45 Destroyer 'HMS Dragon', a Type 23 Frigate 'HMS Northumberland' and RFA Tideforce. Three British F-35B aircraft from 617 Sqn and 207 Sqn deployed to the USA from RAF Marham and have arrived on the Queen Elizabeth Aircraft Carrier (October 2019) and have been joined by another three British F-35B aircraft from No 17(R) Test and Evaluation Squadron which are based at Edwards Air Force Base, California, as well as USMC F-35B aircraft to conduct operational testing for approximately five weeks. She returned to Portsmouth on Wednesday 4th December 2019 where she joined HMS Prince of Wales.
HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier sets sail for F-35 flight trials in UK waters (January 2020):
HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier sets sail from her home port of Portsmouth on Friday 24th January 2020 to conduct flight trials with UK F-35 Lightning jets in home waters. This will allow 207 Squadron at RAF Marham to train and qualify UK F-35 pilots in UK waters for the very first time. Commando Wildcat debuts on HMS Queen Elizabeth in May 2020 and Wildcats have also test-fired the new Martlet missile as the Carrier is preparing for her maiden operational deployment next year. The next stage will see more qualifying training for UK F35 Lightning fighter jet crews, who will be conducting practice Combat Air Patrols from her decks, giving vital experience to the aircrews and ship's company involved in air operations. On the 9th June 2020, F-35 Lightning aircraft of 617 Sqn landed on the Queen Elizabeth Carrier which was the first time the squadron had fully joined the carrier as they prepare for next year's maiden deployment. HMS Queen Elizabeth returned to Portsmouth, on 2nd July 2020, as a fully-trained aircraft carrier, after ten hugely-demanding weeks around the UK, preparing for her maiden deployment in the new year.
USMC F-35B Lightnings arrive at RAF Marham / Operation Joint Warrior (Sept/Oct 2020):
Ten USMC F-35Bs (VMFA-211 Squadron) based at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, arrived at RAF Marham in early September 2020. They will work alongside Marham's 617 Squadron F-35Bs ahead of a Group Exercise in September 2020 where they will embark on HMS Queen Elizabeth to take part in Exercise Joint Warrior. On 23rd September 2020 a total of fourteen UK & USMC F-35Bs and eight Royal Navy Merlin helicopters embarked onto HMS Queen Elizabeth as she prepares to take her place at the heart of a UK-led NATO Carrier Strike Group during operation 'Joint Warrior'. HMS Queen Elizabeth will be joined by two RN destroyers, two RN frigates, two RFA support ships, and other supporting units, as well as warships from the Netherlands and the USA.
HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier Strike Group will deploy to the Pacific in 2021:
The strike group will consist of the Carrier, Type 45 destroyers (HMS Diamond and HMS Defender), Type 23 Frigates (HMS Richmond and HMS Kent), US Navy Arleigh Burke-class destroyer (The Sullivans), Dutch Frigate (HNLMS Evertsen), as well as support vessels (RFA Tidespring & RFA Fort Victoria) and an Astute class nuclear attack submarine. The Carrier Strike Group will be deployed with thirty two helicopters and jets including F-35B Lightnings from 617 Sqn based at RAF Marham (eight aircraft) and the United States Marine Corps VMFA-211 'Wake Island Avengers' sqn based at MCAS Yuma, Arizona (ten aircraft - 5 arrived at Lakenheath on 26.4.21 with another 5 arriving on 28.4.21). Aircraft will also include four Wildcat HMA2 helicopters (815 NAS, Yeovilton), seven HM2 Merlin anti-submarine helicopters (820 NAS, Yeovilton), three Merlin HC4/4A helicopters (845 NAS, Yeovilton), and Crowsnest (on Merlin HM2, 820 NAS, Culdrose) for Airbourne Early Warning. HMS Queen Elizabeth left Portsmouth on 1st March 2021 to conduct a spot of training and pre-deployment preparations in home waters, leading up to Exercise Strike Warrior in May 2021 (coast of Scotland) and her first operational mission to the Mediterranean, Middle East and Asia-Pacific leading an international task group later in the spring. More information on the Queen Elizabeth deployment to the Pacific can be found here.
Queen Elizabeth Carrier Tracker (MarineTraffic website):
HMS Prince of Wales visits Liverpool in February 2020:
HMS Prince of Wales visited Liverpool in February 2020 in a demonstration of the Naval Service's close ties with the city. She is expected to arrive in the city on 28 February 2020 for a week-long and this will be the first time one of the new aircraft carriers has officially been open to visitors who will be able to board her over the weekend of 29 February 2020.
HMS Prince of Wales deployment to the United States postponed
HMS Prince of Wales was set to deploy to the United States to undertake her first F-35B trials but this has now been postponed after significant flooding to the carrier in October 2020 which caused damage to her electrical cabling. She is currently confined to docks where she is expected to remain for at least six months whilst repairs are made. HMS Prince of Wales departed Portsmouth on April 30th 2021 to resume trials and training off the South West coast.
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 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:
The F-35B Lightning is the Short Take-off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant. The other two F-35 variants are the F-35A Lightning which is a conventional take off and landing variant, and the F-35C Lightning 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 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, which will be based at RAF Marham from 2018, and the base has undergone 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.
In November 2015, the government announced its commitment to a full order of 138 F-35 aircraft. The UK should have 42 aircraft, 24 as front-line fighters and 18 used for training/reserve/maintenance, by 2023. As of December 2020 the UK has 21 F-35B Lightning aircraft with 617 Sqn (9 aircraft) & 207 OCU Sqn (6 aircraft) and another three (arrived December 2020) at RAF Marham and 17 Sqn Test & Evaluation (3 aircraft) at Edwards AFB, USA. In the Strategic Defence and Security Review which was released in March 2021 it stated that the RAF F-35B Lightning force size will be increased beyond the 48 aircraft that have already been ordered. More UK weapons will be integrated into the aircraft and investment will ensure that its software and capability are updated. More information on the F-35s at RAF Marham can be found here.
F-35B Lightning II Squadrons:
• 17 Squadron RAF Operation and Evaluation (Edwards AFB, USA) - F-35B Lightning.
• 617 Squadron RAF (RAF Marham) - F-35B Lightning.
• 809 Naval Air Squadron (To be formed at RAF Marham) - F-35B Lightning.
• Unnamed Squadron RAF (To be formed at RAF Marham) - F-35B Lightning.
• Unnamed Squadron Naval Air Squadron (To be formed at RAF Marham) - F-35B Lightning.
• 207 OCU Squadron (RAF Marham) - F-35B Lightning.
How many UK F-35B aircraft are there and where are they based?
• See the UK F-35 Lightning Page.
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. This job has been done by the Sea King ASaC.7 helicopter, based at RNAS Culdrose, which retired 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 first Merlin 'Crowsnest' helicopter entered service in March 2021 based at RNAS Culdrose. Three 820 NAS Merlin HM.2 helicopters were fitted with Crowsnest and deployed on HMS Queen Elizabeth in May 2021 during the Queen Elizabeth Carrier Strike Group (CSG21) deployment to the Pacific.
• 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.
• 845 Naval Air Squadron CHF (RNAS Yeovilton) - Merlin HC.3A/4.
• 846 Naval Air Squadron CHF (RNAS Yeovilton) - Merlin HC.3i/4.
The Wildcat HMA2 Maritime Attack helicopter is also used on Royal Navy ships for ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) as well as anti-surface warfare, force protection and counter-piracy. It can carry Sting Ray torpedoes, a door-mounted 0.5" heavy machine gun, and new light and heavy variants of the Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon Missiles. 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.
• 815 Naval Air Squadron (RNAS Yeovilton) - Wildcat HMA.2.
• 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.
• 659 Squadron AAC (RNAS Yeovilton) - Wildcat AH.1.
• 661 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