PORTSMOUTH shipbuilders have started work on the stern of the first of two new aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy.
A steel cutting ceremony at Portsmouth Naval Base yesterday marked the latest stage of the £5bn project by BAE Systems.
A new £1m steel cutter was fired into action, beginning work on a 1,000-tonne section of HMS Queen Elizabeth’s stern.
The section – known as Lower Block 05 – will house electrical switchboards, the vessel’s complex steering gear, air treatment units and 66 cabins. Parts of the carrier’s rudders will be welded on to the stern during its construction.
Portsmouth shipbuilders started HMS Queen Elizabeth in February last year, so far constructing a huge 6,000-tonne midship section of the hull – known as Lower Block 02.
Tony Williams, who is project director for BAE in Portsmouth, said: ‘We are delighted to start work on Lower Block 05.
‘It’s all going very well from a steelwork point of view. Lower Block 02 is nearly completed – the outfitting is coming together and the systems are being installed. So now it’s good to move on to the next stage on schedule.’
The new 65,000-tonne carriers are the largest ships ever built for the Royal Navy. Their flight decks are as big as two football pitches.
They will be based in Portsmouth and be in service for at least 50 years.
Mr Williams said: ‘It’s an enormous undertaking and a very exciting undertaking. A lot of people in the UK have never built anything like this before so it’s a fantastic opportunity for us.’
Work on Lower Block 05 has to be completed by April 2012, just ahead of Lower Block 02. Both hull sections will then be transported on barges to Rosyth in Scotland where all the components of the huge ship are being assembled.
Commodore Rob Thompson, commander of Portsmouth Naval Base, was asked to hit the button to begin Lower Block 05.
He said: ‘As an engineer, it was a great pleasure to be invited to cut the steel for this stern section which is one of the most complex parts of the ship. What’s good is these milestones are becoming routine, which shows the progress of the carrier build is going well.’
Around 1,000 people are working on the new carrier in Portsmouth. As well as the two hull sections, they are due to build two island superstructures, which act as command and control stations on top of the flight deck. Work begins on those in June.
HMS Queen Elizabeth – due to enter service by 2020 – was originally due to be completed by 2016 but this was changed in the government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review last October.
Work on the second carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, is expected to start later this year. Initially, one of the carriers will be mothballed when they are handed over to the navy.