THIS is the moment a frigate from Portsmouth joined the fleet guarding the Royal Navy’s giant new aircraft carrier as she embarks on her maiden sea trail.
HMS Iron Duke has joined siser ship HMS Sutherland in escorting HMS Queen Elizabeth as she conducts vital system tests off the coast of Scotland today.
The 65,000-tonne behemoth left Rosyth, where she has been under construction since 2014, on Monday with 700 sailors and 200 industry contractors on board.
Type 23 frigates Sutherland and Iron Duke have now joined the warship, along with Merlin Mk2 helicopters of the Fleet Air Arm, to guard the seas around her as the trials get under way.
Commander Andrew Canale, the commanding officer of HMS Sutherland, said: ‘It is a huge honour for us all in HMS Sutherland to be the first ship to escort HMS Queen Elizabeth on her maiden sea voyage.
‘This is a new chapter in the history of the Royal Navy in which our aircraft carriers will have the ability to project power globally for the next 50 years.
‘Everyone in HMS Sutherland is proud to be involved in this historic occasion. For me and all my ship’s company, seeing her on the ocean waves for the first time is a sight we will never forget.’
The sea trials under way of the coast of Scotland are designed to test the carrier’s engines and propulsion systems, plus her ability to produce fresh water, cope with sewage, feed the crew, and supply those on board with electricity.
Lieutenant Dominic Rotherham, the flight observer of HMS Sutherland’s embarked Merlin Mk2 flight crew, said: ‘As an observer in the Fleet Air Arm, seeing her from the air for the first time brought home to me the scale of the future flagship and the power she will represent overseas.
‘It is a privilege to fly from HMS Sutherland’s flight deck, but I’m also excited to one day operate from HMS Queen Elizabeth.’
The carrier’s departure from Rosyth on Monday is one highlight of a national effort which has involved more than 10,000 people across the land - not least six shipyards - clocking up 51,000,000 man hours.
There were just 35cm either side of the carrier’s gigantic hull as she squeezed through the lock at Rosyth, and a mere 50cm separated the keel from the lock bottom as 11 tugs assisted Queen Elizabeth into the Forth before she began her maiden voyage.
She is due to spend six weeks at sea before heading back to Rosyth for maintenance.
Then, she will finish a further period of tests before arriving in Portsmouth in the autumn.