In an historic milestone, an F-35 took off from the flight deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth in Portsmouth this afternoon.
Spectators across the dockyard marvelled at the sight as the £80m warplane launched into the sky off the aircraft carrier’s ‘ski ramp’ to fly back to its base at RAF Marham, in Norfolk.
The jet had been meant to return to the military base from America, after completing trials with five other UK F-35s on Queen Elizabeth last month.
However, a technical hitch left the jet ground and cooped up inside the £3.1bn warship’s enormous hangar.
The jet was transported across the Atlantic by the Royal Navy in secret while repairs were made and was revealed a couple of days after Queen Elizabeth’s Portsmouth homecoming.
A Royal Navy spokeswoman said the aircraft did not return with the other British jets but it would now return to RAF Marham – the UK's F-35 base in Norfolk.
The spokeswoman said: ‘Following completion of successful flying trials in the US, one F-35 Lightning remained embarked on HMS Queen Elizabeth in order for repair and maintenance work to be completed.’
People stopped what they were doing inside Portsmouth Historic Dockyard to witness the milestone take-off.
Among them was Archie Yates was with his 10-year-old son, Oscar, who had been on a day out to the heritage site.
Oscar, of Horndean, said: ‘The plane was so loud, I couldn’t believe it. I have never heard anything like it before.’
Archie, 46, added: ‘It was an incredible sight. It makes you proud to be British.’
Felicity Spicer and her husband Malcolm were also shocked by the take-off.
The 68-year-old, of Middleton-on-Sea, added: ‘We actually didn’t get to see the jet take off. But we could hear it from the other side of the dockyard. It was amazing.’
The F-35B fighter has been heralded as the world's most advanced jet, with a top speed of mach 1.6 – 1,200mph – and a range of 900 nautical miles.
The planes were deployed for the first time by the UK in reconnaissance missions over Iraq and Syria in the battle against Islamic State in June this year.
HMS Queen Elizabeth arrived in Portsmouth earlier this month where she docked alongside her sister ship, HMS Prince of Wales, which was officially commissioned into the navy last week by the Duchess of Cornwall, accompanied by the Prince of Wales.