BRITAIN’S biggest and most powerful warship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, will be welcomed to the United States by the Statue of Liberty as the aircraft carrier arrives in New York on her maiden deployment tomorrow.
The £3.1 billion behemoth, which has more than 1,000 personnel on board, will anchor two miles from Manhattan in the Hudson River at around lunchtime on Friday.
Ahead of the visit, Captain Jerry Kyd who is due to hand over command of HMS Queen Elizabeth on Wednesday, addressed the ship's company for the last time, telling those gathered in the vast hangar to ‘enjoy New York’.
Thanking and praising them for their efforts, team work and professionalism during his stint at the helm, he said HMS Queen Elizabeth is ‘now the future of the Royal Navy’.
‘When the Prince of Wales joins this ship next year, this is a navy we can be really proud of. We are back on the world stage, we are back in power projection operations, and we are back in protecting your families, the British people at home and our interests around the world,’ he said.
The arrival of HMS Queen Elizabeth into New York comes after two test versions of the multimillion-pound stealth fighter F-35B Lightning jets landed on the flight deck and took off from the ship's ski-jump ramp for the first time on September 25.
With more than 98 ski-jump take-offs logged since then, the two planes left the carrier on Tuesday for maintenance and will return for more flight trials at the end of the month.
It means HMS Queen Elizabeth will arrive in New York without any F-35 jets on deck.
Officially accepted into the Royal Navy fleet in December, the ship left her home of Portsmouth Naval Base in August and sailed across the Atlantic to begin her maiden four-month deployment, named Westlant 18.
As well as the F-35 flight trials, the Royal Navy said the deployment will also test the ship's ability to operate with other nations' ships and aircraft, and a US Navy Osprey helicopter has already landed on deck.
During his speech to the ship's company, Captain Kyd revealed that in the 17 months since the ship left Rosyth dockyard she has ‘steamed 32,000 miles’, and has seen nine different aircraft types on the deck.
Stressing the importance of a continued professionalism, even after he departs the aircraft carrier, Captain Kyd said the crew will always be reliant on each other – something he said will be tested when the ship one day goes into combat.
Captain Kyd added: ‘I know you will serve your new captain well, thank you very much from the bottom of my heart... this ship has been something truly special.’
Once anchored in New York, defence secretary Gavin Williamson is expected to visit the vessel on Saturday where he will make a speech during a special Trafalgar Day dinner held on board.
Other dignitaries and special guests, including the head of the Royal Navy, Admiral Sir Philip Jones, will also attend.
During her half-century working life, the 65,000-tonne ship could be pressed into action for tasks such as high-intensity war fighting or providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief. She will also serve as a floating military base for the F-35 jets.
The UK has embarked on a £9.1 billion programme to buy 48 by 2025 of the F-35B from American aviation giant Lockheed Martin – but has pledged to purchase 138 eventually.
Britain currently has 16 of the F-35B – the short take-off and vertical landing variant – with nine based at RAF Marham in Norfolk, and the rest being tested and flown in the United States.
The warship left its home of Portsmouth Naval Base in August.