The UK Royal Navy’s first Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) arrived at Naval Station Mayport in Florida on Sept. 5 marking her first visit to the U.S.
Queen Elizabeth has completed a 3,400-mile long journey across the Atlantic to the east coast of the USA after departing her homeport of HMNB Portsmouth on Aug. 18. The deployment, known as ‘WESTLANT 18’, was the first-time the aircraft carrier has sailed across the Atlantic.
The 11-week deployment of the Royal Navy’s future flagship to the U.S. will see the first landing of the F-35B Lightning II stealth fighter jet onto the flight deck of the 65,000-tonne carrier – eight years since a jet last took off from a British aircraft carrier. Weather and serviceability permitting, the historic first landing is earmarked to take place later this month.
Mayport is the first port call of the deployment in order to re-supply before beginning final preparations for the F-35 trials.
Queen Elizabeth will embark two F-35B test aircraft from the Integrated Test Force (ITF), based out of Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, during the deployment. Around 200 supporting staff, including pilots, engineers, maintainers and data analysts will be joined by two ‘orange wired’ test aircraft, belonging to the ITF, which are expected to conduct 500 take offs and landings on the 900ft long flight deck during their period at sea.
The aim of these initial, or ‘developmental’ trials are to ascertain, through the specially equipped aircraft, and a myriad of sensors and data recorders to see how the state-of-the-art aircraft perform in various weather conditions/sea states and carrying various payloads. Similar successful trials were conducted by HMS Queen Elizabeth at sea earlier this year for rotary wing aircraft (helicopters).
Four F 35B Lightning developmental test pilots, who are members of the ITF, will embark to fly the aircraft; three British, one American. The British personnel comprise a Royal Navy Commander, a Squadron Leader from the Royal Air Force and one civilian test pilot. They will be joined by a Major from the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC).
As well as the vital deck trials, the deployment will also involve exercises to prove the ability to operate with other nations’ maritime and aviation assets, as well as the landing of Royal Marines and their equipment ashore in the United States, to conduct training with their US counterparts.
The vessel is joined by RFA Tiderace (A137), a Tide-class replenishment tanker of the British Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA); HMS Monmouth (F235), a Type 23 Duke”-class frigate of the Royal Navy; as well as Merlin Mk2 helicopters from 820 Naval Air Squadron, RNAS Culdrose, Mk 4 Merlins from 845 Naval Air Squadron, RNAS Yeovilton and a contingent of Royal Marines from 42 Commando, Plymouth.
In June this year, the first four F-35Bs arrived at RAF Marham two months ahead of schedule allowing the UK’s Lightning Force to focus on achieving initial operational capability (IOC) by the end of 2018. The latest five jets arrived last month. The jets will be jointly operated by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Royal Navy.
The UK took delivery of 15 F-35B aircraft in total, the remainder of which are stationed at MCAS Beaufort or Edwards Air Force Base in California, where they are involved in testing and training. Around the world, there are now nearly 300 F-35 aircraft operating from 15 bases globally and the programme has achieved more than 140,000 flight hours.