BRITAIN’S biggest warship left her home port of Portsmouth yesterday for the first time since being handed over to the Royal Navy.
HMS Queen Elizabeth successfully sailed out of the city’s historic harbour to begin her maiden helicopter trials at sea, cheered on by hundreds of well-wishers.
And for the first time ever, the mighty 65,000-tonne warship left the city embarked with two Chinook helicopters on her flight deck.
The aircraft from the Aircraft Test and Evaluation facility at MoD Boscombe Down arrived on board the navy’s future flagship yesterday morning as the carrier prepared to sail.
Queen Elizabeth will be joined later by two Merlin Mk2 aircraft, with all four aircraft carrying specialist testing equipment.
Captain Jerry Kyd, commanding officer of the £3.1bn aircraft carrier, said: ‘After the excitement of our commissioning ceremony in December, my ship’s company and our industry partners are looking forward to taking the ship to sea to conduct first-of-class rotary wing flying trials.
‘These trials will involve operating different types of helicopter from the ship in all weather conditions and fully testing the myriad of onboard systems that are designed to support aviation.
‘This is an important milestone in the ship’s capability development progression towards embarking the F-35B Lightning jets later this year and ultimately, the achievement of carrier strike capability.’
Tests will involve the four specially-equipped aircraft being used to record the data which will then be processed to identify the capabilities and limitations the ship will work with when it adopts the role of Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH).
The current owner of the role is HMS Ocean. The vessel, which is alongside in Portsmouth this weekend, is due to be decommissioned later this year.
If the exercise is successful a range of other helicopters, including the Merlin Mk 3 and 4, Wildcat and the army’s Apache attack helicopter, will then be cleared to fly from Queen Elizabeth as well.
Royal Marines will also be embarking to test their ability to land and recover troops to and from ashore.
An extra 70 personnel from the ship’s permanently assigned 820 Naval Air Squadron will be onboard, offering two Merlins as force protection, bolstering the 700-strong crew.
A navy spokeswoman added the supercarrier will later be escorted by another Royal Navy warship.
Hot weather and fixed wing aircraft trials will follow in the summer, after a period back alongside in Portsmouth.
Then Queen Elizabeth will tackle fixed wing trials with the world’s most advanced stealth jet. the F-35B.
This is due to take place towards the end of the year, off the east coast of America.