HMS Queen Elizabeth: 9 landmark moments from Royal Navy’s £3bn aircraft carrier’s flight trials

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HMS Queen Elizabeth has finished her historic flight tests in the US. 

The Royal Navy's 65,000 tonne aircraft carrier sailed out of Portsmouth in mid-August for her deployment to America. 

Type 26 frigates will help protect HMS Queen Elizabeth. Picture: Royal Navy

Type 26 frigates will help protect HMS Queen Elizabeth. Picture: Royal Navy

During the months-long visit across the pond, HMS Queen Elizabeth’s crew have carried out a series of historic deck tests as preparations for her to enter active 

Here are the biggest moments from throughout the flight trials in America: 

Wildcat helicopter lands on HMS Queen Elizabeth for first time 

The first big landmark during the flight trials was the landing of a Wildcat Helicopter on her decks. 

The helicopter’s landing was completed during the Royal Navy carrier’s trip to the US. 

Pictures shared by the Royal Navy show the Wildcat HMA2 helicopter landing on the deck

READ MORE: Wildcat helicopter lands on Royal Navy carrier for the first time during US trip

First F-35 lands on HMS Queen Elizabeth’s deck 

The landmark everyone was waiting for was the first landing of an F-35 jet on her decks – and it finally happened at the end of September. 

With two specially-equipped F-35B stealth jets safely touching down on her decks. 

Royal Navy Commander Nathan Gray and RAF Squadron Leader Andy Edgell were the first pilots to land the warplanes on the Portsmouth-based ship.

It was the first time a plane had landed on a British warship in eight years. 

READ MORE: Historic moment as F-35 finally lands on Royal Navy’s future flagship

F-35 jets land on HMS Queen Elizabeth at night for first time

The next major milestone during the flight trials was the landing of F-35B jets on the decks at night. 

This first happened at the start of October, not long after the jets landed on HMS Queen Elizabeth’s decks for the first time. 

Flights were carried out on the £3.1bn aircraft carrier with and without night vision.

Commander James Blackmore said: ‘he concept of night flying isn’t difficult for us.

'What we are looking at is what the new lights on board HMS Queen Elizabeth look like at night from the perspective of the F-35s.’ 

READ MORE: Fast jets land on aircraft carrier at night for the first time

Pilots carry out ‘revolutionary’ rolling landing

Another landmark was hit in October as pilots carried out the first ever rolling landing on the HMS Queen Elizabeth. 

F-35 Lightning fighter jet pilot Peter Wilson completed the first ever shipborne rolling vertical landing (SRVL). 

Previously the jets have conducted only vertical landings, hovering by the side of the warship before moving sideways over its deck and gently lowering down.

A rolling landing however requires an F-35 to take a more conventional landing approach, approaching the ship from behind at speed, before using thrust from its nozzle and lift created by air over the wings to touch down and gently come to a stop.

READ MORE; Video shows British F-35 pilot carrying out ‘revolutionary’ first rolling landing on £3bn carrier​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Here is all that was achieved in the first half of deck trials:

- 98 take-offs using the ski ramp

- the first ‘rolling’ landing, bringing the F-35 to a stop on the flight deck instead of the aircraft dropping down vertically

- night flying

- and even some rough weather trials to begin pushing the conditions in which the carrier can operate her air power safely.

First test bombs dropped by jet flying from HMS Queen Elizabeth 

In mid-October the first bombs were dropped from F-35 jets taking part in historic flight tests on the HMS Queen Elizabeth. 

The Royal Navy said that the first test bombs – inert GBU-12 Paveway II laser guided precision bombs - were dropped off the east coast of the USA. 

It marked another significant milestone in the carrier’s flight trials. 

Commander Neil Mathieson, the head of the air engineering department on board HMS Queen Elizabeth, said: ‘This marks a significant milestone for us.

‘It makes me excited about operational trials next year with the UK’s F-35 Lightning squadrons when we will see live Paveways being dropped.

‘These trials are an important pathway to that point.’

The testing of the bombs – which are made up of a head, containing the bomb’s computer, the tail and a concrete warhead – also marked the first time American-made bombs have been loaded onto a UK ship. 

They are being built on-board by Royal Navy air engineers, supervised by specialist US Navy ordnance ratings from the US aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, further demonstrating the close co-operation between the two key allied nations.

Aviation Ordnanceman Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Little, of the US Navy, was part of the team overseeing the Royal Navy air engineers on board.

He added: ‘The team has run really well with the work we have done with them, they have come up to speed pretty fast.’

US aircraft carriers have hundreds of sailors involved in arming their aircraft, whereas the highly mechanised weapons handling system on board HMS Queen Elizabeth takes just 40 people to make an F-35 Lightning jet ready for combat operations, thanks to specially-designed automated technology built for the British warship.

READ MORE: F-35 jets drop first bombs during Royal Navy carrier’s historic flight tests in US

HMS Queen Elizabeth's first CO hands over the reins

The Royal Navy’s first commanding officer Captain Jerry Kyd handed over the reins of the future flagship to his successor while in New York City. 

Capt Kyd had been in charge of the ship since 2014 and had guided her through sea trials, her journey to Portsmouth and across the Atlantic. 

Speaking about the flight tests before handing over command, Captain Kyd said: ‘It has been a superb effort by everyone across the Integrated Test Force and HMS Queen Elizabeth so far – I could not be more pleased with the team spirit and dynamism shown by all.

‘That has delivered a volume of quality data which has put us well ahead of where we expected to be at this stage.

‘I am very grateful to all the Integrated Test Force folk who have been focused, professional and willing to go the extra mile.’

He handed over the reins of the ship to Captain Nick Cooke-Priest. 

READ MORE: Royal Navy warship’s first Commanding Officer to hand over the reins while in New York

New captain takes over the helm of HMS Queen Elizabeth 

While visiting New York City for a week, Captain Nick Cooke-Priest took over the command of HMS Queen Elizabeth. 

He became the aircraft carrier's second ever CO, succeeding Captain Jerry Kyd. 

Captain Cooke-Priest led HMS Queen Elizabeth and her crew through the second half of flight trials and will sail her back to Portsmouth before the end of the year. 

He joined the Royal Navy in 1990 he specialised as a Lynx helicopter observer after initial officer training at Dartmouth. 

He was promoted to Commander in 2009 and took command of Frigates Kent and Iron Duke – with the latter deployed to Libya as part of Operation Ellamy. 

READ MORE: Meet HMS Queen Elizabeth’s new Commanding Officer

Pilot tests backwards landing on HMS Queen Elizabeth’s decks

Towards the end of the flight tests in America, one of the pilots carried out a 'bizarre' backwards landing on HMS Queen Elizabeth. 

RAF test pilot Squadron Leader Andy Edgell carried out the landing, which saw him fly the F-35 Lightning facing the stern of the boat, bring it to a hover and then bringing it down, slip across the flight deck and then bring it down on the carrier.

Squadron Leader Edgell said: 'It was briefly bizarre to bear down on the ship and see the waves parting on the bow as you fly an approach aft facing.

'It was also a unique opportunity fly towards the ship, stare at the bridge, and wonder what the captain is thinking.'

Once on the landing spot the rest of the manoeuvre is almost identical to a routine landing, the navy said.

READ MORE: HMS Queen Elizabeth: 'Bizarre' wrong-way landing as F-35 fighter jet sets down on £3bn carrier

Final jet lands on HMS Queen Elizabeth for 2018

The last jet has landed on the decks of the aircraft carrier for the year. 

The final test, which happened this week, brought an end to the nine week flight trials on the HMS Queen Elizabeth. 

HMS Queen Elizabeth has ‘eclipsed aspirations’ after successfully completing two months of flight trials.

The Royal Navy’s £3bn aircraft carrier saw the last fighter jet take off from her decks this year. 

She has been on deployment on the East Coast of America for historic flight tests which included the first F-35 land to take off and land on her deck. 

HMS Queen Elizabeth crew announced the end of the US trials on November 19.

‘This has been one of the most comprehensive flight trials at sea ever conducted,’said RAF Squadron Leader Andy Edgell, ITF chief test pilot.

‘I am very proud to have professionally executed every aspect of this trial and deliver for the UK a capability that can be exploited for years to come.’

READ MORE: Final flight test carried out on HMS QE

HMS Queen Elizabeth returns to Portsmouth 

The Royal Navy's £3bn aircraft carrier is due to return to Portsmouth and its naval base home after finishing the flight tests. 

When the HMS Queen Elizabeth left the home of the Navy in August, it took 18 days to sail across the Atlantic and reach its first port of call in Florida. 

The future flagship should arrive back in Portsmouth in time for Christmas after spending weeks away in America.