POWERFUL new fenders built to keep Britain’s next generation of aircraft carriers safe while docked have been put through their paces in Portsmouth.
The USNS Robert E Peary was the first vessel to be moored at the revamped Princess Royal Jetty.
It is tangible evidence of how close we are to the dawn of the QEC eraCaptain Iain Greenlees, Queen Elizabeth-class infrastructure director
It comes little more than a week after poor weather scuppered plans to fully test the new facility at Portsmouth Naval Base.
The US ship, which at 210m in length is 70 metres shorter than HMS Queen Elizabeth and her sister Prince of Wales, returned to the city as part of a three-day visit.
The ‘fender spacer units’ operate via hydraulic arms that slot into the new jetty and move up and down with the tides to protect the carriers and keep them about 20 metres away from the jetty.
As well as preventing vessels from hitting the jetty, the fenders will serve as a platform for elite navy divers carrying out security checks before the carriers arrive.
Captain Iain Greenless, who is the Queen Elizabeth-class infrastructure director, was excited about the new facilities.
He said: ‘This jetty lies at the heart of the preparations for the arrival of HMS Queen Elizabeth and the wider development of the base for this century.
‘It is tangible evidence of how close we are to the dawn of the QEC era.’
HMS Queen Elizabeth was due to arrive in Portsmouth at the end of May.
But the 65,000-tonne, £3.1bn leviathan’s maiden voyage from Rosyth, Scotland, has been delayed until summer.
In preparation for the new vessel, and her sister ship, the naval base has undergone a major £100m makeover.
As well as revamping and strengthening the jetty, work has been carried out to deepen Portsmouth harbour.
Bespoke navigational lights and a high-voltage electrical supply have also been installed. And new carrier-specific gangways – known as brows – have been completed that will ferry personnel and supplies on and off the ships.
Robert E Peary’s visit was part of the base’s Familiarisation, Integration and Testing – FIT – programme.
The scheme, now nearing its final phase, is a chance for base personnel to test the new equipment and refine operating procedures, along with emergency scenarios. It will continue for the next few months.
The base’s upgrade was completed by BAE Systems, VolkerStevin and the Defence Infrastructure Organisation.