A Merlin helicopter has become the first aircraft to land on carrier HMS Prince of Wales.
The aircraft carrier is currently on the first phase of sea trials which will look at platform stability and manoeuvrability.
Another monumental day in the history of @HMSPWLS with our first deck landing! ?⚓
— HMS Prince of Wales (@HMSPWLS) September 23, 2019
At present, the ship’s company (around 600 people say the Royal Navy) are focusing on a successful spell of sea trials, having prepared for months, gradually bringing the many systems, sensors and items of machinery from the galley to the main engines into life.
They are joined for the trials by a team of 320 civilian contractors.
What will the vessel carry when in service?
The term now used for the carriers embarked squadrons is ‘Carrier Air Wing’ (CVW). The vessels are capable of deploying a variety of aircraft in large numbers, up to a maximum in the upper fifties in surge conditions but around 40 aircraft will likely be the usual maximum.
In addition to the joint force of Royal Air Force and Royal Navy F-35Bs and their pilots, the air wing is expected to be composed of a ‘Maritime Force Protection’ package of nine anti-submarine Merlin HM2 and four or five Merlin for airborne early warning; alternatively a ‘Littoral Manoeuvre’ package could include a mix of RAF Chinooks, Army Apaches, Merlin HC4 and Wildcat HM2.
It is my understanding that vessel would still carry at least one F-35 squadron aboard in such circumstances to offer air defence as well as support to the helicopter assault activities.
The Crowsnest AEW&C aircraft will come from a number of the embarked Merlins (any of which can be fitted with the sensor package), the number again scaling with requirements.
Uniquely for a vessel of this type, it will be common to see the jump-jet F-35B appear to land conventionally. This is a process called Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL). It is a process designed to land jump-jet aircraft that uses both the vertical thrust from the jet engine and lift from the wings, thus maximising the payload an aircraft can return with and stopping the financial waste that comes with dropping expensive weaponry in the sea in order to land vertically.