The UK Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) has sailed from her homeport of HMNB Portsmouth on Jan. 24 to conduct flight trials with UK F-35 Lightning fighter jets in home waters.
The joint Royal Navy and Royal Air Force (RAF) Lightning Force Training squadron, 207 Squadron, will conduct the trials, flying aircraft to and from the decks, day and night from their base at RAF Marham. Six pilots, both navy and air force, will carry out their aircraft carrier qualification in that time.
The trials will give the pilots practise in landing on the 4.5-acre deck in a range of conditions, as well as testing the ship’s crew and systems in operating with the jets that the ship, and her sister, HMS Prince of Wales (R09), were specifically built to fly.
The UK Lightning Force jets conducted their first maritime flights during operational tests with the aircraft carrier just a few months ago during the Westlant 19 deployment in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the United States. During the Westlant 18 deployment in 2018, the 65,000-tonne warship only carried out trials with the US jets.
“It is a real honour for me to be taking HMS Queen Elizabeth to sea for the first time as her new Commanding Officer”, said Captain Angus Essenhigh, HMS Queen Elizabeth’s Commanding Officer. “This period at sea will build on the successes of the Westlant 19 deployment, providing a fantastic opportunity for the ship to further its generation towards carrier strike, and will train and qualify UK F-35 pilots in UK waters for the very first time.”
“This is a fantastic opportunity to further integrate and qualify United Kingdom F-35 pilots, ground crews and aircraft on board HMS Queen Elizabeth in UK waters”, said Lieutenant Commander Richard Turrell, Flight Deck Officer on HMS Queen Elizabeth. “My team are excited to get to sea and continue the development of our ship to air wing partnership throughout 2020 and beyond to deploying with full carrier strike capability in 2021.”
The UK will declare Initial Operating Capability for the carrier strike group by the end of 2020. The first operational deployment for HMS Queen Elizabeth 617 Squadron and a squadron of U.S. Marine Corps Lightning jets is due to take place in 2021.