HISTORY was made as thousands of people watched the Royal Navy’s newest aircraft carrier steam triumphantly into Portsmouth for the first time.
Screaming families, armed with flags and plaques, cheered as HMS Prince of Wales made her maiden debut into her new home port.
Towering over Old Portsmouth, the enormous 65,000-tonne warship was guided into city’s ancient dockyard by a team of super-powered tug boats.
An aerial salute was given by two Hawk jets and a Wildcat helicopter as the £3.1bn warship inched her way towards Portsmouth Naval Base on Saturday.
Prince of Wales’s arrival came a remarkable two weeks ahead of schedule, admitted her commanding officer, Captain Darren Houston.
The 50-year-old, of Old Portsmouth, said the ship had excelled during sea trials – proving to be an even more powerful warship than her older sister, HMS Queen Elizabeth.
Speaking to The News, the veteran naval officer said: ‘There’s always that rivalry between the two sisters.
‘With the younger sister you always want to be able to say that you’re slightly faster, slightly longer and slightly heavier – and that’s what we are.
‘We are very, very slightly longer, we’re definitely faster because we have proven that on sea trials – we got a greater top speed than our sister ship – and we’re just slightly heavier as well.’
Thousands of people lined the shores of Portsmouth and Gosport to witness Princess of Wales’s arrival.
Shipping lanes were closed and an air exclusion zone put in place as part of security measures for the arrival.
Sailors from the 700-strong crew lined the flight deck as the £3.1 billion carrier approached the dedicated Princess Royal jetty at the naval base.
Among the sailors was Portsmouth lad Ben Daniels, who is an air engineering technician on the warship.
He said: ‘I feel immensely proud to be a member of HMS Prince of Wales's ship's company while the ship is heading into its home port for the first time.
‘It is a historic moment for the Royal Navy and I am looking forward to many years of service on this incredible ship.’
The carrier left Rosyth dockyard in Fife, eastern Scotland where it was built, in September before undergoing eight weeks of sea trials ahead of her arrival in Portsmouth.
She is currently still in the possession of the Aircraft Carrier Alliance (ACA), a conglomerate of industry partners that helped to construct her.
SImon Lister, managing director of the ACA, said both of the nation’s new aircraft carriers offered ‘fantastic flexibility’ for the government.
Speaking of Prince of Wales’s sea trials, he added: ‘She performed very reliably, that’s why we’re here early. We’ve had very few breakdowns and very few difficulties to fix. So we're very proud of the ship we’ve built.’
The finishing touches still need to be added to Prince of Wales before she is formally handed over to the Royal Navy.
It’s expected the warship will be commissioned into the navy on December 10, Capt Houston said, in a ceremony due to be attended by the Duchess of Cornwall.
Before that, Portsmouth can expect to welcome HMS Queen Elizabeth following the completion of her second phase of trials with the F-35 stealth jet in America.
It’s anticipated she will arrive towards the end of the first week of December.
Capt Houston added the arrival of both vessels into Portsmouth would be a huge moment, not just for the city and Royal Navy but for Britain and Europe.
‘There’s no doubt about it, this is a really special moment for the Royal Navy which now has two 65,000-tonne aircraft carriers almost in service,' he said.
‘There are only about five countries in the world that build carriers and we’re one of them. We have just become the premier European naval power, there’s no doubt about it.’