The UK Royal Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, has arrived at her homeport, HMNB Portsmouth, today (Dec. 10), after a four-month deployment to the United States.
The U.S. deployment, called Westlant 18, involved two months of intensive fast jet trials with the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lighhtning II stealth fighter jets. The trials will help to write the ‘operator’s manual’ for the carrier so the jets can fly from her deck on front-line operations.
The success of the Westlant 18 deployment – which has also included a very high-profile visit to New York – allows the Portsmouth-based ship to move on to operational trials next year with British-owned F-35s flown by Royal Navy and Air Force aviators based at RAF Marham.
Two jets and four test pilots, based at the Integrated Test Force (ITF) at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland, USA joined the carrier in late September. Since then, they have performed 200 short take-offs, 187 vertical landings, and 15 ‘rolling’ landings – a technique unique to the UK which allows a Lightning to return to the carrier with a heavier payload – and dropped 54 dummy bombs into the Atlantic.
The ‘WESTLANT 18’ Task Group comprised HMS Queen Elizabeth, HMS Monmouth, RFA Tidespring and aircraft from 820, 845 and 814 Naval Air Squadrons, as well as Royal Marines from 42 Commando and supporting units from the US Navy and US Marine Corps.
HMS Queen Elizabeth will remain in Portsmouth during the early part of 2019 undergoing maintenance. A third developmental test for First of Class Flight Trials (Fixed Wing), followed by operational testing, is scheduled later the year. The operational trials will be conducted with British-owned F-35s flown by Royal Navy (RN) and Royal Air Force (RAF) aviators based at RAF Marham. Together, the tests will help the U.K. Ministry of Defence reach F-35B IOC(M) in 2020.
The 65,000-tonne warship was accepted into the Royal Navy Fleet at a commissioning ceremony led by Her Majesty the Queen in December 2017. She is expected to enter active service in 2021. Her sister ship, HMS Prince of Wales (R09) is being built and will join HMS Queen Elizabeth in Portsmouth next year.