HMS Queen Elizabeth sailed from Portsmouth yesterday morning to conduct a second set of rotary-wing flying trials. Her sailing had been delayed by a few days after a defect with the power system emerged. This was quickly rectified and the delay will not affect her overall programme for this year.
She has been alongside for the last 13 weeks for a Capability Insertion Period during which time engineers have been working hard to upgrade her systems and carry out planned maintenance tasks. This included painting the non-slip coating on sections of her deck – something planned to be done in stages, every time she’s alongside.
30 BAE Systems engineers have sailed with the ship and will continue to carry out work onboard during the 2-3 weeks away. Their focus working on setting-to, testing and fine-tuning systems to support the F-35 flying trials which will be conducted later this year.
The first four 617 Squadron F-35s arrived in the UK this week and many assumed they would join the ship. Operational aircraft will not embark on the ship until late 2019 at the earliest. 617 Squadron will receive more F-35s in two further batches to bring it up to its strength of around 12 aircraft by the end of 2018. To begin with, 617 will be flying from RAF Marham on land-based training, aiming to achieve Initial Operating Capability (IOC/Land) by December. Specially instrumented F-35s will be the first to land on board QE when the ship is off the Eastern Seaboard of the US in the autumn.
Phase 1 helicopter trials with the Merlin and Chinook were a success, Apache and Wildcat have yet to be cleared to operate and it is assumed they will participate in the phase 2 trails. The flying serials are used to write the Ship Helicopter Operating Limits (SHOL) which define the safe operating envelope for each aircraft type flying from the QEC carriers.
QE will return home sometime in July to begin preparations for the trip to the United States. QE is due to visit New York, probably in September and will be escorted on the deployment by Type 23 frigate HMS Montrose. Press reports that F-35s will perform a demonstration landing on board QE in Portsmouth for the visit Donald Trump on 13th July should be taken with a very large pinch of salt!