HMS Queen Elizabeth ready to set sail from Portsmouth today for first deployment to AmericaÂ

BRITAIN'S biggest-ever warship is today setting sail on her maiden voyage to the USA almost exactly a year after first arriving in Portsmouth.

Saturday, 18th August 2018, 8:06 am
Updated Sunday, 2nd September 2018, 10:09 pm
HMS Queen Elizabeth. Picture: BAE Systems

Aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth will leave her home city later today to begin a landmark 11-week deployment off the east coast of America.

The milestone mission will see the first landing of the F-35B, the UK's new stealth jet, onto the enormous flight deck of the 65,000-tonne leviathan - eight years since a jet last took off from a British aircraft carrier.

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HMS Queen Elizabeth. Picture: BAE Systems

But first the carrier will have to complete her 3,400-mile trip across the Atlantic before she can embark the two hi-tech jets from the Integrated Test Force (ITF), based out of Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.

The historic first landing is earmarked to take place towards the end of September

About 200 supporting staff, including pilots, engineers, maintainers and data analysts will be joined by the test jets, which are expected to conduct 500 take-offs and landings.

Special sensors dotted around the ship will monitor each landing and take-off to work out the operating parameters of the aircraft and ship in a range of conditions, night and day.

These follow similar successful trials which were conducted by HMS Queen Elizabeth at sea earlier this year for rotary wing aircraft.

Speaking today of the deployment, defence secretary Gavin Williamson said: '˜HMS Queen Elizabeth is a true statement of our national power, and the whole country can be proud to see this magnificent symbol of our engineering prowess and international ambition leaving port to sail on to the world stage.

'˜Her voyage to America not only shows her global reach but strengthens our special relationship with the US forces who we have worked hand-in-hand with on this iconic programme.

'˜As she sails along the east coast of the USA, she will signal our determination to keep fighting alongside our allies in all corners of an ever more complex and uncertain world.'

Four F-35B Lightning developmental test pilots, who are members of the ITF, will embark to fly the aircraft; three British and one American. The British personnel comprise a Royal Navy Commander, a Squadron Leader from the RAF and one civilian test pilot. They will be joined by a Major from the US Marine Corps.

Nobody yet knows who will be the pilot to land the first jet on the £3.1bn supercarrier, but naval top brass said it would almost certainly be a British pilot.

The trials follow the recent arrival into the UK of the first four joint Royal Navy, Royal Air Force F-35B jets, based at RAF Marham, earlier this year with the latest five jets arriving little more than a week ago.

The deployment to the US, known as Westland 18, will be the first time Queen Elizabeth will have sailed across the Atlantic and has seen the ship's crew swell from just over 700 when she left Rosyth last year, to almost 800 now.

As well as the vital deck trials, it will also involve exercises to prove the ability to operate with other nations' maritime and aviation assets, as well as the landing of 70 Royal Marines and their equipment ashore in the US to conduct training with their American counterparts.

All in all, there will be about 1,500 people on board the 280m-long supercarrier when she leaves.

Captain Jerry Kyd, HMS Queen Elizabeth's commanding officer, said: '˜This deployment to the United States will be another first for my ship. Crossing a major ocean with 1,500 sailors, aircrew and Marines embarked and the spectre of the first F-35B Lightning landing on the deck in September is very exciting for us all.

'˜It has been an incredible journey since we left Rosyth just over a year ago and we are all looking forward to this next, seminal chapter in HMS Queen Elizabeth's life.'

As the ship's work-up continues, so too does the regeneration of the UK's carrier strike force.

Commodore Andrew Betton is the man in charge of Britain's carrier strike group. He will take command of HMS Queen Elizabeth as she sails to America, accompanied by a number of other Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ships.

He said: '˜As a critical step towards delivering the UK's new carrier strike group, this deployment demonstrates the astonishing collaborative effort that will enable the new F-35 jets to fly routinely from our Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.

'˜At the heart of the maritime task group, the aircraft carrier is well protected and sustained, ready to operate around the world as a potent and exceptionally flexible instrument of our foreign policy.

'˜These first F-35B embarked trials in a UK aircraft carrier are not only key to future operational success, but represent an iconic moment for the modern Royal Navy.'

Queen Elizabeth will conduct trials in UK waters over the coming days before departing for the US later this month.

She will be joined by RFA Tiderace and Plymouth-based Type 23 frigate HMS Monmouth, as well as Merlin Mk2 helicopters from 820 Naval Air Squadron, RNAS Culdrose, Mk4 Merlins from 845 Naval Air Squadron, RNAS Yeovilton and a contingent of 70 Royal Marines from 42 Commando, Plymouth.

Operational testing, using British F-35B aircraft are scheduled to take place on board HMS Queen Elizabeth next year.

The aircraft carrier's first operational deployment is earmarked for 2021.