In this photo and video essay, we look at the much-anticipated arrival of the first jets on board HMS Queen Elizabeth which took place this week.
Under blue skies and in calm seas, on 25th September Commander Nathan Gray, RN followed by Squadron Leader Andy Edgell, RAF, flew the first F-35Bs onto HMS Queen Elizabeth from their base in Maryland. With the aircraft decades in development, hours of simulator testing and USMC F-35Bs already proven flying operationally at sea, the first landing was always likely to be a success. Years of preparation and hard work by thousands of people on both sides of the Atlantic have contributed to this iconic moment. It is the coming together of the world’s largest aircraft project and the biggest ship ever built for the Royal Navy. We are still some way from the UK F-35 achieving Initial Operating Capability in late 2020 (with Full Operating Capability due in 2023) but the fixed-wing flying programme can now begin.
These operations mark a number of ‘firsts’. This is the first F-35 to land on a non-US warship and the first fixed-wing aircraft to land on a Royal Navy warship since 2010. (It’s been a long wait!). Over the next 3 weeks, the first of three developmental test-flying periods will see these aircraft from the Integrated Test Force (ITF) make the first F-35 ski-ramp assisted take off at sea and the first Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL). Four pilots using two US/UK-owned test aircraft will begin with the basics, in daylight, beginning in good weather and gradually become more demanding working up to night landings in rougher conditions.
The axing of the Harrier and the resulting fixed-wing naval aviation gap was a high-risk strategy for UK defence (quickly exposed by events in Libya 2011) and a grievous blow to the Royal Navy. The arrival of the first F-35B is a sign of real progress on the road to restoring the aircraft carrier as the centrepiece of UK expeditionary capability. Despite plenty of naysayers proclaiming their obsolescence, every leading nation in the world is investing in naval aviation as a tool of both hard and soft power. QE’s Captain Jerry Kyd predicts our aircraft carriers “will probably be used quickly and strategically”, they are likely to prove their worth to many future governments.
How it’s coming together – timeline for delivering Carrier Strike