BRITAIN entered a new era of naval power as the UK’s largest warship ever built took to the seas for the first time.
HMS Queen Elizabeth – the navy’s first new aircraft carrier in a generation – successfully left her base in Scotland yesterday afternoon.
It took an armada of 11 ‘super tugs’ to guide the 65,000-tonne behemoth out of the Rosyth dockyard and into the River Forth, with only 14 inches to spare between Queen Elizabeth’s hull and the basin entrance.
In an unprecedented operation, the 280-metre long aircraft carrier was painstakingly manoeuvred under the Forth’s famous bridges.
The vessel’s expansive flight deck – which is the size of three football pitches – loomed over buildings as she passed down the river.
At one point, she even had to lower her state-of-the-art radar atop her mast to pass under the Forth bridge – with just two metres to spare.
It’s the first chapter in a 50-year history for the aircraft carrier, which will call Portsmouth her home.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said the maiden voyage was a proud moment for the nation and was key in making the Royal Navy one of the globe’s premier fighting forces.
He said: ‘This is an historic moment for the UK as our new aircraft carrier takes to sea for the very first time.
‘This floating fortress is by far the most powerful ship ever built in Britain that will enable us to tackle multiple and changing threats across the globe. HMS Queen Elizabeth is an enduring example of British imagination, ingenuity and invention that will help keep us safe for decades to come. She is built by the best, crewed by the best and will deliver for Britain.
‘For the next 50 years she will deploy around the world, demonstrating British power and our commitment to confronting the emerging challenges from a dangerous world. The whole country can be proud of this national achievement.’
The aircraft carrier’s 733-strong ship’s company now face six weeks at sea testing the ship’s systems.
Taking place in the North Sea, the trials will monitor speed, manoeuvrability, power and propulsion as well as undertaking weapons trials and additional tests on her levels of readiness.
After this phase, the ship will return to Rosyth for further testing and maintenance before heading back to sea for a second stage testing her mission systems. If all goes well, she is expected to sail into Portsmouth Naval Base in the autumn.
Penny Mordaunt, Portsmouth North MP, is excited by the prospect of the carrier’s arrival in the city – and is urging the whole city to rally when Queen Elizabeth sails into the harbour.
She said: ‘This is a terrific moment for the country, the Royal Navy and for HMS Queen Elizabeth’s home port: our great city. She marks the return of carrier strike and all the utility that comes with such a ship.’
Portsmouth City Council leader Donna Jones said it was ‘fantastic news’ that the carrier had left Rosyth.
‘It’s hugely exciting for Portsmouth,’ she said. ‘And for UK plc this is a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate what the post-Brexit economy is capable of, and it will be a momentous occasion when she arrives in her home port.’
The ship is commanded by Captain Jerry Kyd, who was the former chief of the navy’s last aircraft carrier, HMS Illustrious – which was scrapped in December.
Once in service, Queen Elizabeth will be the largest aircraft carrier in the world outside the United States and the first equipped to operate the fifth generation of aircraft.
Britain’s top sailor Admiral Sir Philip Jones said yesterday’s achievement was a ‘hugely significant moment’ not just for the navy, but for all of the UK.
The First Sea Lord said: ‘Already this ship represents the best of the UK’s industrial and engineering expertise, and once in service she will symbolise our military power and authority in the world for decades to come.
‘There is still much work to do between now and then, but be in no doubt: a new era of British maritime power is about to begin.’
The mega carrier will operate with a crew of about 733. But when embarked with a full complement of aircraft, this figure will surge to 1,600.
The ship’s company moved on board this month and have been familiarising themselves with the vessel, including her five galleys, cinema, gym, cabins and hospital.
Queen Elizabeth was built by the Aircraft Carrier Alliance, a partnership between BAE Systems, Thales UK, Babcock and the Ministry of Defence.
Jon Pearson, ship delivery director, said: ‘The departure of HMS Queen Elizabeth marks an exciting stage in the programme and is the first real opportunity to put the carrier’s outstanding capability to the test, demonstrating the best of British engineering and manufacturing.’
Queen Elizabeth’s sister ship, HMS Prince of Wales, is being built in Rosyth and is due in Portsmouth in 2019.