Another piece of the world’s biggest jigsaw is ready to head north

HUGE The forward lower section of HMS Queen Elizabeth nears completion inside the BAE Systems ship hall at Portsmouth Naval Base.  Picture: Steve Reid (121617-588)
HUGE The forward lower section of HMS Queen Elizabeth nears completion inside the BAE Systems ship hall at Portsmouth Naval Base. Picture: Steve Reid (121617-588)
HMS Queen Elizabeth leaves Portsmouth for the first time to go on sea trials

Picture: Malcolm Wells (171030-0346)

Commanding officer of HMS Queen Elizabeth says jets on the carrier will be ‘final piece of the puzzle’

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IT dwarfs everything else in the vast shipbuilding hall.

Even with two artic lorries parked nearby, the mighty 6,000-tonne hull section of HMS Queen Elizabeth reigns supreme.

FINISHING TOUCHES One of the six-man cabins.  (121617-632)

FINISHING TOUCHES One of the six-man cabins. (121617-632)

And yet this block at Portsmouth Naval Base forms less than 10 per cent of the navy’s new aircraft carrier.

Even more breathtaking is what greets you when you clamber up five flights of stairs to take a peek inside. Plush spacious cabins, large recreation areas, posh toilets, sinks and showers have all been installed.

All that appears to be missing are soft furnishings – and the sailors, of course.

Already in place deep in the bowels are two 170-tonne diesel engines – each capable of generating enough energy to power Portsmouth.

The section, known as Lower Block 02, has taken 1,300 BAE Systems workers 28 months to build.

It will be rolled out onto a 460ft barge next week, before embarking on a 500-mile journey to Rosyth in Scotland on Friday, May 25.

There it will added to the jigsaw that makes up the final 65,000-tonne warship.

‘This is not just an empty shell, it’s an 80 per cent completed ship,’ said BAE’s Portsmouth project manager Paul Bowsher.

‘All that remains is connecting her air conditioning and the pipe work to the other parts of the ship and she’s done.’

Mr Bowsher’s pride is palpable.

He said: ‘This is the biggest thing ever to come out of this facility.

‘It’s by far the best-looking block of the whole carrier project, but I am biased.

‘It’s taken 28 months of hard work to get to where we are now and I’m so proud of the team’s performance.’

Reflecting on the block’s imminent departure, he added: ‘It’s a sense of pride to see her ready to go, but we’ve been working on her for so long that there’s also a touch of sadness there too.’

Elsewhere in BAE’s vast shipbuilding hall, sparks fly as welders work on the first parts of the second carrier, HMS Prince of Wales.

And the forward island to go on the flight deck of Queen Elizabeth – housing the bridge and controls which will steer the great ship – is taking shape.

While the shipbuilding project races ahead, there is controversy over which type of fighter jet will grace the decks of the £6bn warships. David Cameron is expected to make an embarrassing U-turn today and revert to the Labour government’s original decision buy the less-capable F-35B jump-jet variant of the US-built Joint Strike Fighter.

It comes after the estimated costs of fitting catapults and arrestor gear to one of the carriers to accommodate the longer-ranged F-35Cs rose from £400m to £2bn.

The move will mean US and French jets will not be able to land on the navy’s new ship – a key factor in Mr Cameron’s decision to switch F-35 aircraft in 2010.

But it could halt the plan to mothball Queen Elizabeth once the Prince of Wales enters service in 2020.