F-35 jets have landed on aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time.

This event marks the first time an F-35 has ever landed on a non-American vessel and it helps bring an end to the eight-year hiatus since a British aircraft carrier last operated a fast jet from its deck.

On the 25th of September Royal Navy Commander Nathan Gray made history by being the first to land an F-35B on HMS Queen Elizabeth.

He was followed by Squadron Leader Andy Edgell, RAF, both of whom are test pilots, operating with the Integrated Test Force (ITF) based at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.

Shortly afterwards, once a deck inspection has been conducted and the all-clear given, Cdr Gray became the first pilot to take off using the ship’s ski-ramp.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“The largest warship in British history is joining forces with the most advanced fighter jets on the planet. This marks a rebirth of our power to strike decisively from the seas anywhere in the world. The historic first landing on the deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth is a monumental moment in our country’s proud military history. It is also a statement of Britain’s determination to promote peace and prevent war.”

The landings mark the start of more than 500 take-offs and touch-downs set to take place from the mammoth warship during the next 11-weeks, with the jets being put through their paces in a range of weather conditions.

Commanding Officer, Capt Jerry Kyd, who was also the captain of HMS Ark Royal when the last Harrier took off from a carrier, said:

“I am quite emotional to be here in HMS Queen Elizabeth seeing the return of fixed wing aviation, having been the captain of the aircraft carrier which launched the last Harrier at sea nearly eight years ago.

The regeneration of big deck carriers able to operate globally, as we are proving here on this deployment, is a major step forward for the United Kingdom’s defence and our ability to match the increasing pace of our adversaries. The first touch-downs of these impressive stealth jets shows how the United Kingdom will continue to be world leaders at sea for generations to come.”

Commander UK Carrier Strike Group, Cdre Andrew Betton added:

“The Queen Elizabeth Class carriers have been specifically designed and built to operate the F-35 Lightning, offering an immensely flexible and potent combination to deliver military effect around the world.

Conducting these trials is a critical and exciting step on this journey and I applaud the many thousands of civilian and military personnel who have played a part in bringing the strategic ambition to reality.”

The aircraft that have landed on the supercarrier belong to the Joint Operational Test team. The team’s mission is to build confidence in the aircraft towards helping clear the F-35 to make the legally mandated advance from Low Rate Initial Production to Full Rate Production. The RAF’s No 17 (Reserve) Test and Evaluation Squadron comprises ten percent of the test programme in the JOTT.

The reason that the aircraft are American isn’t some scandalous outrage or sign of something terrible, it’s simply that most of the F-35Bs in Joint Operational Test team are American. Just watch how some papers report this, though.

After speaking to one of the pilots in the test programme, we understand that the UK only has three (BK1, 2 & 4) test jets that are ‘orange wired’ to take data for post-flight analysis, the rest being operational aircraft. It is understood that the two orange wired F-35 test aircraft, belonging to the Integrated Test Force will now conduct 500 take offs and landings during their 11-week period at sea.

HMS Queen Elizabeth in company with T23 Frigate HMS Monmouth during F-35B Lightning II trials.

We were told last month by one of the UK pilots currently flying the jet that the reason for this is that the JOT team dictate the availability of test jets out of a pool. Our contact said:

“It would be nothing more than symbolic to make UK jets available for the trials and that comes at a significant effort since all of them are based at Edwards AFB in California, not on the East Coast where the ship trial is due to take place. Therefore, the most obvious and cheaper choice is to use the F-35B test jets based at Pax River, which are US ones. British test pilots like Andy Edgell, Nath Gray, will obviously fly them but there’ll be US pilots too because that’s how Joint Test works.”

The ship will go on to continue her programme off the US east coast. The flight trials are expected to take around 11 weeks, during which time the ship is also expected to call into New York.

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John Clark

Wonderful news, warm congratulations to all concerned!
Looking forward to seeing the pictures, rather than the computer graphics we’re had until now.

Dave Liles

Well done to everyone involved.


Only one picture?

On another note, does anyone know what has happened to fightersweep.com ?


The news we’ve all been waiting for!
Can’t believe 8 years has come and gone.
Onwards & upwards!


Congrats to my UK friends! Thats a beautiful site!

Mark Latchford

Very, very cool!


Very impressive!!! Well done to all involved!!

Nigel Collins

I wonder if there will be a delay in testing after the F35-B crash?
At least this went well.


Saw that as well. Hope the American pilot is safe and well. If it delays then good. It will have been intelligently evaluated on short notice and any delay will be well warranted. And it’ll keep our guys safe and grounded. They have enough (well earned) celebrating to do anyway


Excellent. A massive step forward.


Outstanding work from everyone, over 20 years or whatever it is. Well earned drinks tonight + tomorrow + Sunday


Nice video footage on the BBC news website for anyone wanting to take a look..
Positive news item too!
Must be Christmas.


Thanks AV, good video!


Or Hell has frozen over 🙂


Either way long time coming.
Monumental achievement.
Will be interesting to see how the other press cover this over the weekend.
For all the nay sayers, 15 months from builders trials to touchdown is phenomenal!


Totally gobsmacking, frankly. I didn’t expect it till the end of the year, even with the Merlin and Chinook trials going so well.


Outstanding news. As the next few years progress UK carrier strike can only strengthen. Fifth gen stealth fighters with the huge ISTAR capabilities these aircraft provide means the Royal Navy will have a carrier capability few will match.
A huge well done to everyone concerned.

Mr Bell

Excellent news. Marred slightly by reports of further defence cuts that we cannot afford in terms of capabilities and numbers.
What is really impressive is the fact 2 jets are on the deck and the QE class still has acres of space for more.
These ships are magnificent and should be protected by a capable Royal Navy, not a navy that has suffered from foolish cutbacks. We should be building our entire military posture around carrier strike and the F35B combination

Anthony D

For once Mr bell we are on the same page.


Great to see the Sea Lightning doing what it’s designed to do and what we bought them for! Well done to all concerned – a great moment.


I wonder why the three day delay in releasing the news. Hopefully the USMC F-35B crash (pilot safe) won’t bring the trials to a premature halt.


Well done, and it was an RN pilot, two of them!

But … but … dud aircraft carrier with no aircraft, whatever happened to that?


He was followed by Squadron Leader Andy Edgell, RAF…


Sorry, yes, I missed that, stupid of me.


A joint effort 🙂 BZ to all!


(Chris H) – Sorry but Nathan Gray is an RAF pilot assigned to the ITF. He says as much in an excellent interview here:

He served on Harriers with 4 Squadron RAF and then 800 Squadron FAA and served on Ark Royal, Illustrious and USS America.


Okey-doke. I’m going to change my stance a bit on the QE (and POW). Before I was saying that in any operation the QE would be able to rely on escorts from say France or the US, Holland or Denmark, or any combination of NATO forces. But in view of all the silly politics going on and the lack of any statesmanlike behaviour, I think now the RN has to be in a position to put together an RN only Carrier Strike Group, fully escorted by the T45 and T23 / T26 plus a couple of SSNs (and Auxes). The… Read more »


In view of mike’s correction above, include the RAF of course, and definitely of course. it wasn’t meant to be a non inter-service co-operation comment, just came out that way!


Easily done amongst all the excitement Dad.
Congrats to all involved.


Having followed developments on the QE almost daily for the last 7 or so years, previously to being a UKDJ silent observer, on the website military images (which had a fantastic thread on the QE class before it’s removal by the way) I am genuinely in awe of these few photos. Mr Williamson needs to now turn the screws on TM and the government to ensure the full capability of these assets, when properly escorted, is realised. Looking forward to more images over the next 11 weeks!! The CGI ones just don’t quite cut it anymore 🙂

David Taylor



Lovely photos and congratulations all around! Look forward to seeing her working on deployment. Hope she has some time to exercise with one of our Atlantic Fleet (Fleet Forces) CVNs before she heads back.



(Chris H) Helions – pop up to New York and have a walk round as she is on a Flag visit in November (I think)


A great milestone despite the shame of no carrier strike capability for way too long. Still far from operational with no Phalanx CIWS, the QEs only air defence weapon fit. In any future conflict I wonder if the enemy would accept notes from our “mother” excusing our ships for not having the normal warfighting equipment? FFBNW or never dared even ask for the necessary weapons & equipment?


The phalanx is not fitted bacause the carrier is not yet in service. It is co ducting tests not war…


Really good news to UK!

John West

Looks great.

Looking forward to the short rolling landing test videos.


Fantastic news, gongratultions to all involved, poignant to see flight deck crew cheering and clapping at first takeoff, these guys have been in the background training hard for the last few years, great for them to see the fruits of thier efforts. BZ.

Anthony D

Worth a gander… includes a perspective on f35b use by other nations.


Daniele Mandelli


Aethelstan the Curious.

Great news, looking forward to the day when the ship is fully loaded. Now to watch the videos!

Nigel Collins

Interesting to see how the US is upgrading some of their aircraft to include a more stealthy profile.

Very well designed conformal fuel tanks, hope to see these on Typhoon rather than the bulging ones that have been designed for it currently to meet the threats of today!.



For those interested, the Royal Navy Image and Video Archive has a lot of video and interviews from the event.

Also @Chris from the interviews in the Archive you will find that Cdr Nathan Gray RN isn’t in the RAF and that Sqn Ldr Andy Edgell RAF actually was he one who was in 4 Sqn and 800 Sqn FAA just to save you watching some interviews where they explain that themselves.

Nigel Collins

An electromagnetic aircraft-launch system really is a must for the QE carriers, this will give it greater flexibility allowing a wider choice of aircraft and drones to fly from her decks. I’ve always thought a squadron of the latest growlers would be a wise investment for us particularly now that Russia and China are building up their advanced air defence systems. An additional squadron or two of the latest FA18 Super Hornets would not go amiss either replacing the amount of F35’s on order. Limiting the type of aircraft to just one is not ideal given the number of fixes… Read more »


(Chris H) Nigel – Always amazes me how some folks just have this blinkered view that we should copy everything the Yanks do and better still just buy 30 year old US aircraft designs that are far less capable than the ones we are now buying. You should get used to the idea that QE and PoW will NOT be having CATOBAR until at least 2035 or even 2040 when QE goes in for her mid life refit. By then EMCATS / EMALS will be proven or not or we may be in even further advanced technology. Can you guarantee… Read more »

Nigel Collins

Perhaps you should try to do some research yourself Chris H, I’m not a fool who opts to put all their eggs in one basket(F35) like some choose to do but rather open my mind to other possibilities. Perhaps you could inform the US as they are increasing the number of FA18 Super Hornets and purchasing fewer F35C’s. They are also ordering more 18G’s, I wonder why? Fortunately, the blinkered view appears not to be me and I don’t follow anybody just apply common sense like the Americans appear to be doing. The F35B will not be fully operational or… Read more »

Nigel Collins

How many times have I said this since joining here?

Sacrificing Stealth

“Neither the Advanced Super Hornet nor the Silent Eagle would be as stealthy as the F-35. They simply weren’t optimized for it. But is the F-35’s stealth the significant advantage proponents claim? According to the Israelis, the F-35’s stealth capabilities will only be effective for 5 to 10 years—a point they made more than four years ago. Since then, they’ve added their own electronic warfare systems to the F-35 to combat this coming obsolescence.



(Chris H) Helions – Nicely spotted but forgive a wry British smile here. The French had a chance to work with us decades ago and shafted us over Tornado, Then Typhoon and then the QE (or as they called it PA-01) carrier. Their loss. But again true to form they use the research and experiences gained through working with us on QE / PA-01 and are now ‘doing their own thing’. Again. Lets see if they can produce a 70,000+ ton carrier for $5 Bn that works right out of the box. Or dry dock. Even your US Navy is… Read more »


I understand your sentiments Chris about the two continental powers that seem to overshadow and make most of the decisions in the EU. Ever since the advent of the European Coal and Steel Union and the efforts made by France to keep the UK out of the EU – there has definitely IMHO been a bias against Britain among the PTB in the bloc. The problem – particularly with the defense industry – is its transnational nature. Being so intermingled among countries and continents it’s very difficult to separate into wholly sovereign blocs. BAE would be a good example in… Read more »


(Chris H) Helions – Once again a well presented set of comments with which I heartily agree. Indeed I was saying as much but not so eloquently We already have the basis for such an Anglo grouping in our unique and world beating intelligence and security partnership: ‘5 Eyes’. I was just saying where a post Brexit UK’s priorities should lie. And I just will never see any priority for us militarily inside the EU. They want to be a ‘United States of Europe’ then let them fund their own defence not freeload off the UK and to a very… Read more »


Agreed! So sorry for all the terrible typos… As usual, poking tiny keys in a huge hurry!


[…] The British once again have a carrier capable of supporting modern aircraft – HMS Queen Elizabeth may be uncommonly ugly, even for an aircraft carrier, but welcome back to the carrier club, Royal Navy! The shipboard rolling vertical landing is an interesting technique, and although I don’t believe they’ve tested it yet, it should do wonders to increase the F-35’s bringback weight in British service. […]


As usual the MOD seriously mess up the PR angle:


I’m not surprised – almost all my encounters with the MOD’s PR machine have been of a very negative nature. If you are not from old media such as The Times and the Daily Telegraph, or maybe the BBC and Jane’s – forget it, you are just an unwanted hassle.