The UK Royal Navy’s newest aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales (R09) has paid her second visit to the Scottish port of Invergordon – one of the few harbours in the north of the UK able to accommodate the 65,000-tonne vessel.
The £3bn carrier has been undergoing sea trials in the Moray Firth and the North Sea. The short stop-off in Invergordon allowed the ship to get rid of rubbish (aka ‘gash’), take on fuel and fresh food, and also allow the ship’s company to get ashore.
The remote port – north of Inverness – is used to handling tankers connected with the North Sea oil and gas industries as well as cruise liners (passengers visit Loch Ness). But it is not normally geared up for handling ships of the size, shape and nature of HMS Prince of Wales which is too large and unwieldy to berth unaided.
With the help of a civilian pilot, the ship sailed into and out of Cromarty Firth – announcing her presence at the mouth with blasts on her horn. Four tugs were needed to help the carrier to her jetty, brought in by port authorities from various other harbours – including one which made the 100-mile journey up from Leith.
The ship tested another facet of her defences against chemical, nuclear and biological warfare. As well as a protected ‘citadel’ – the air-tight inner heart of the ship where the crew are safe from dangerous elements in the atmosphere – the flight deck has the ability to ‘wash off’ any toxic particles which land on it.
A complex web of high-pressure jets covers the four-acre flight deck, with pop-up nozzles pumping out spray covering around 50 square metres with the spouts reaching up to two metres high. Left running for an hour, the ‘pre-wetting’ system can wash the flight deck with 4,500 tonnes of water – that’s as much as a Type 23 frigate displaces. It can also be used to tackle flight deck fires alongside Prince of Wales’ own dedicated firefighting teams.
With 600 Royal Navy personnel and more than 300 industry experts on board to test the engineering, weapons and sensor systems, Prince of Wales is continuing her trials in the Moray Firth for the rest of the autumn.
The carrier is due to debut in her future home of Portsmouth before Christmas. She is expected to be commissioned into the Royal Navy fleet next year and should be fully ready for frontline duties from 2023.