The UK Royal Navy’s Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) returned to its homeport of Her Majesty’s Naval Base (HMNB) Portsmouth on Dec. 4, after three months in the USA for F-35 trials.
At the naval base, she was greeted by her sister ship HMS Prince of Wales.
The aircraft carrier, with two of her escorts HMS Northumberland and RFA Tideforce, sailed from the UK in August to conduct operational tests with UK F-35 jets from the UK Lightning Force for the first time. Supporting the carrier strike group units throughout were Merlin helicopters from 820 Naval Air Squadron based out of RNAS Culdrose, providing anti-submarine protection and search-and-rescue (SAR) capability.
Commando Merlins from 845 Naval Air Squadron acted as the aviation workhorses, transporting stores and equipment, providing SAR cover and also landing Royal Marines from 42 Commando’s Lima Company to rehearse how to rescue downed pilots. Merlins from 814 NAS and Wildcat from 815 completed the air group.
The Commanding Officer of HMS Queen Elizabeth, Captain Steve Moorhouse said: “Homecomings are always a special occasion, but to be returning to Portsmouth with HMS Prince of Wales welcoming us home makes this a particularly special occasion.
“This has been an extremely successful deployment for HMS Queen Elizabeth. Embarking UK F-35 Lightning jets for the first time and integrating them within the carrier strike group is a significant milestone and we are well set for an equally demanding 2020 and our first operational deployment in 2021.”
Commander of the Air Group, Captain James Blackmore, added: “The five-week period of operational tests with UK F-35s from the UK Lightning Force was significant and historic. As the last pilot to fly Harrier from the deck of HMS Ark Royal in 2010, it filled me with tremendous pride to see UK fixed-wing aircraft operate once more from a British carrier.”