SHE may not be fully operational until 2020, but the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier already has a crew.
The first sailors to serve aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth joined the ship in Rosyth, Scotland, yesterday.
It’s a major milestone for the £6bn project to build the nation’s largest-ever warships.
Some 1,600 sailors will eventually serve in the carrier – the first of two 65,000-tonne ships which will be based in Portsmouth from 2016.
For now, just eight naval staff are on board under the command of Captain Simon Petitt who lives in Wickham.
He told The News: ‘It’s a huge privilege and certainly a career high point to be asked to be the senior officer of the largest ship we have ever had in the Royal Navy.
‘We are a small, quite senior team. We have a number of roles and the first thing we need to do is start to learn all about the ship and start developing naval procedures.’
Around a third of Queen Elizabeth has already been assembled in a huge dock in Rosyth. She is due to be launched in 2014.
Capt Petitt said: ‘I was up here in August and had a good walk around the ship.
‘It does feel ship-like. It’s got a lot of kit to go in yet but it’s got compartments, passageways, pipes and wires. It’s hugely exciting and it’s about time we started the stuff we need to do to prepare ourselves and bring her into service.
‘These ships will be impressive. I’m getting inundated by people who want to be a part of breathing life into the ship.
‘I arrive with eight people. By the end of the year, there will be 12 of us. In January next year, that will double in size and by the end of the year there will be 60 or 70 so things will ramp up quite quickly.’
Capt Petitt’s team are the first sailors to join an HMS Queen Elizabeth since a dreadnought-class battleship of the same name launched in 1913.
Leading Seaman Claire Butler, 29, pictured on the front page, was the first to receive a Queen Elizabeth tally for her hat.
She said: ‘Becoming the first member of the Royal Navy to wear this cap tally is a fantastic honour.
‘We will make sure this warship becomes operational and helps to safeguard the world’s oceans.’