JETS have landed for the first time on the flight deck of Britain’s new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth.
Two specially-equipped F-35B stealth jets safely touched down on the 65,000-tonne carrier off the east coast of America, it was announced last night.
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.
Captain Jerry Kyd, commanding officer of HMS Queen Elizabeth – who was also the captain of HMS Ark Royal when the last Harrier took off from a carrier – said: ‘I am quite emotional to be here in HMS Queen Elizabeth seeing the return of fixed wing aviation, having been the captain of the aircraft carrier which launched the last Harrier at sea nearly eight years ago.
‘The regeneration of big deck carriers able to operate globally, as we are proving here on this deployment, is a major step forward for the United Kingdom’s defence and our ability to match the increasing pace of our adversaries.’
The landings marked the culmination of a national endeavour lasting more than a decade to bring aircraft carriers back to the UK’s arsenal.
Able to embark 24 of the supersonic jets, the £3.1bn warship will provide a floating British base able to strike out across the globe.
Defence secretary Gavin Williamson said the news symbolised the ‘rebirth’ of the UK’s power to ‘strike decisively’ anywhere in the world. He said: ‘The historic first landing on the deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth is a monumental moment in our country’s proud military history.
‘It is also a statement of Britain’s determination to promote peace and prevent war.’
The landings mark the start of more than 500 take-offs and touch-downs set to take place from the mammoth warship during the next 11-weeks, with the jets being put through their paces in a range of weather conditions.
Commodore Andrew Betton, commander of the UK’s carrier strike group, said ‘The Queen Elizabeth-class carriers have been specifically designed and built to operate the F-35 Lightning, offering an immensely flexible and potent combination to deliver military effect around the world. Conducting these trials is a critical and exciting step on this journey and I applaud the many thousands of civilian and military personnel who have played a part in bringing the strategic ambition to reality.’
While the HMS Queen Elizabeth-class carriers will be able to project British military power across the globe for the next half-century, they can also provide humanitarian relief, deepen defence relationships with key allies and provide critical support to our forces as they are deployed across the world.
In recent operations, US aircraft carriers like the USS George HW Bush and USS Harry S. Truman have played a central role in the Gulf and the Mediterranean, conducting strikes against Daesh in Iraq and Syria.
The historic flight trials come more than 100 years after the UK’s HMS Argus became the world's first carrier capable of safely launching and recovering naval aircraft.
Queen Elizabeth will return to Portsmouth in December. She will deploy on her first mission in 2021.