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.

57 COMMENTS

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

    • 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

      • 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.

  2. 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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

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

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

  6. 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 lifetime is some 50 years after all, and the UK has to be able to put together a solo presence even just for appearances.

    And more than that, such an RN only CSG should be exercised before the 2023 deployment (which at this rate may well be before 2023).

  7. 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 🙂

  8. 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.

    Cheers!

  9. 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?

  10. 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.

  11. For those interested, the Royal Navy Image and Video Archive has a lot of video and interviews from the event.
    http://213.122.161.212/fotoweb/Grid.fwx?archiveId=5003&SF_LASTSEARCH=&SF_FIELD1_GROUP=1&SF_GROUP1_BOOLEAN=and&SF_FIELD1_MATCHTYPE=exact&SF_FIELD1=F35FDL&SF_SEARCHINRESULT=0&SF_GROUP2_BOOLEAN=and&SF_GROUP2_FIELD=FQYFT&SF_FIELD2_GROUP=2&SF_FIELD2_MATCHTYPE=exact&SF_FIELD2_BOOLEAN=and&SF_FIELD2=&SF_FIELD3_MATCHTYPE=exact&SF_FIELD3_BOOLEAN=and&SF_FIELD3_GROUP=1&SF_FIELD3=&doSearch=Go

    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.

    • 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 still required to get the F35B up to its full operating capability 2024/25.

      • (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 Tempest will need CATOBAR?

        We looked at EMCATS and EMALS and while the British EMCATS was more advanced neither could be delivered reliably let alone costed accurately as of 2010. The QE was further in the build process than was the USS Ford. The only ‘benefit’ was the Government could buy fewer ‘C’ aircraft than ‘B’ aircraft. They then decided (after spending some £ Mns) and rightly so we should continue with STOVL.

        I would also suggest you do some research on what the ‘Growler’ does and how the F-35 does the same task and adds in other asset suppression capabilities while wrapped in (whatever) stealth capability. An F-35B can then target heavier weapons from a Typhoon standing off. Can a Growler do that? And why add yet another new airframe to our inventory?

        Nice try at adding a diversion to your anti-F-35 agenda though

        • 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 able to carry its full repertoire of ordinance until at least 2024, and that’s if the cost of upgrading to Block 4 is agreed given the spiralling cost.

          https://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/the-navys-ea-18g-growler-will-soon-be-armed-what-could-be-25704

          • 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.

            https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/aviation/a24682/f-35-vs-super-hornet/

    • (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 struggling (manfully) with the USS Ford which isn’t much bigger although 45% more displacement. And lets not even mention cost.

      I do respect the French for ‘doing their own thing’ but when they shaft so called allies like us in the process then I lose much of that respect. And now they have dragged Airbus into the same way of working and excluded the UK. Well screw the pair of them I say.

      • 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 the UK.

        At a previous position at a U.S. based multinational I sat in an office in the U.S. Deep South, often getting to work early enough (3-4 hours early at times) to make consecutive phone calls to Martin Baker in Britain, our subsidiary in the Israel, operations personnel at Bagram AB Afghanistan. All to get together information to present at the 7:30 am (U.S.CT) standup in the program director’s office.

        Highly intermingled and almost inseparable stand alone entities that covered several continents and geographic locales – all under 1 umbrella of corporations and partnerships. The same holds true in my opinion about a possible Marine Nationale version of a QE. If Thales is involved (highly probable) the end product is going to look strongly like a CATOBAR version of the QE.

        Did Britain take the risks to develop and build the original template? Yes. Will it stop Thales using the lessons learned to apply to a French carrier? No… The same with the GRF. The vast majority of the problems the ship is experiencing have to do is with the most advanced first in class systems – the EMALS, AAG, weapons delivery systems etc. Most of which the QE class does not have. None have ever been fielded before in a carrier. Most of the ship actually operates very well – the propulsion problem was due to an improperly manufactured main thrust bearing – not in the design.

        HI has taken those lessons learned and applied them to the Kennedy which is months ahead of schedule and she is benefiting from that expensive knowledge ( I stand by my opinion in an earlier post that the JFKII will be the first combat ready unit in the class) – as will the RN if the QEs are ever retrofitted with the systems and and any French carrier (and Indian) will do so as well after the USN took all the risks in developing, fielding, and tweeking the systems a great cost.

        No country is truly a self sustaining economically or resource wise anymore and that very much holds true for the UK. That’s why in IMHO, once BREXIT occurs the Anglo bloc including the U.S. ought to work much more closely together as a separate alliance. Without the U.S. an English speaking bloc comprising the former dominions and the UK would only have a touch over 100,000,000 or so population among them. Not enough to compete the emerging super blocs. Not even the U.S. with a projected population of 400 million in the years ahead could do so. Combined however, an Anglo U.S. bloc would have enough population, financial, and technical mass to compete as a tier one power. The days of going it alone are over.

        All countries will have to share sovereignty in many ways in this emerging world – particularly in defense. The question is, for the UK, WHICH countries should it share that sovereignty with? An EU dominated by France and Germany (heavily influenced by Russia), or an Anglo bloc with the heavyweight being the U.S.? I’d certainly prefer the latter myself. However whichever course Britain chooses. One thing will remain immutable – No country is truly an island anymore…

        JMHO.

        Cheers!

        • (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 much greater extent the USA as they have for 40 years. Post Brexit 80% of NATO defence spending will be from OUTSIDE the EU. An utterly appalling statistic.

          I really believe Trump nailed the truth over NATO. It is past its ‘sell by date’ and we all need to find another way. Which (to me as a proud Brit) means no more involving ourselves in EU politics or defence and developing our new global role alongside the USA (yes as a junior partner) but just as importantly as a peer partner with Commonwealth countries with whom we have hundreds of years of continual history. After all 16 of those nations share our Head of State and therefore there Commander in Chief. It isn’t the RCAF and RAN for nothing. I believe the Aussies selecting Type 26 was a major move from them towards that objective and I really believe the Canadians will follow that lead.

          We have an expression here that says “Its all there for the doing” and albeit from different perspectives you and me are on that same page …

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

            Cheers!

  12. […] 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. […]

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