THE RAF’s new breed of supersonic stealth jets have become the first British planes to take off and land on the Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth.
The state-of-the-art F-35B fighter jets touched down on the 65,000-tonne warship on Sunday, while Portsmouth-based Queen Elizabeth continues her operational trials off the east coast of the USA.
The jets are the first RAF planes to combine radar-evading stealth technology and a supersonic capability, with a top speed of 1,200mph.
RAF Wing Commander Adam Curd, the first to land on board, said: ‘This is the first time I have landed on board an aircraft carrier – for it to be HMS Queen Elizabeth, and in an aircraft as amazing as a UK Lightning, is quite something.
‘This is a proud moment not only for me, but the wider team that has brought us to this milestone for maritime aviation and UK defence.’
The UK currently owns 18 of the jets, with an order for an additional 30 of the £100m planes on the book.
British defence secretary Ben Wallace said the trials were ‘another step towards’ the carrier strike capability becoming fully operational.
He said: ‘The bringing together of the UK Lightnings on the first-in-class, HMS Queen Elizabeth paves the way for the world’s most up to date, fully integrated carrier force.’
HMS Queen Elizabeth is being escorted by a strike group including Portsmouth-based Type 45 destroyer, HMS Dragon and submarine hunter HMS Northumberland and tanker RFA Tideforce as they take part in the Westlant 19 carrier strike group deployment.
They will also be joined by units from the United States Navy, US Air Force and US Marine Corps.
Rear Admiral Martin Connell, assistant chief of the naval staff for aviation and carrier strike for the Royal Navy, said: ‘Once again, the support from our US Navy and US Marine Corps colleagues in the United States has been incredible and undoubtedly helped bring us to this moment – making maritime aviation history.’
The first operational deployment for HMS Queen Elizabeth, 617 Squadron and a squadron of US Marine Corps Lightning jets is due to take place in 2021.