The first fixed wing fighter jet pilots have embarked on aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth as she prepares to begin flying the F-35B later in the year.
According to a Royal Navy press release, the ship is coming to the end of a period at sea where she has been conducting first of class flying trials for rotary wing aircraft. Two Merlin Mk2 and two Chinook helicopters from the Aircraft Test and Evaluation Centre (ATEC) at MOD Boscombe Down have conducted hundreds of test sorties in a variety of conditions over the past few weeks, working through the aircraft’s operating parameters from the ship at sea.
“The data gathered during the trials will enable the ship to declare Initial Operating Capability (IOC) as a Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH) later this year, a role held most recently by HMS Ocean.
Royal Marines from 42 Commando have also been on board during this trials period, undergoing Assault training – whereby they are processed through the ship and launched by helicopter to conduct operations ashore.”
Whilst the ship continues trials and prepares to return to the UK for upgrades and maintenance, the focus is switching from rotary wing trials to the first embarkation of fixed wing aircraft in the Autumn; the first F-35B jets will be flown from the carrier for the first time off the east coast of the USA say the Royal Navy.
Colonel Phil Kelly, Royal Marines, is one of four fixed wing pilots to have joined HMS Queen Elizabeth in recent days, to set the conditions for the future integration of fixed wing squadrons. He explained:
“This ship and its capability has been decades in the making and I am here to help bring together the air strike battle aspects. I have flown from all of the Invincible class carriers and from the American Carriers USS Bush, Truman and Reagan. This is now my seventh carrier, so to be able to bring my previous experience back here to be able to set this ship up ready to receive strike fighters, and hopefully in the future to be able to come back and fly them, is an immense privilege.”
Also joining the ship is Commander James Blackmore who takes up the role of Commander Air. He said:
“This is something we have all waited for about 20 years to see, it’s very exciting and a real privilege to be a part of. The main challenge for us is getting focused on bringing a jet to sea again, and that’s not a simple prospect. There are only a handful of nations in the world who operate aircraft carriers and aircraft at sea.
In simple terms, when an aircraft leaves the deck, it leaves its runway and the runway isn’t where it left it when it comes back. The runway pitches, rolls, heaves, moves, gets covered in waves – all those things are at play when you bring an aircraft onto the deck. That will be a unique thing for many of our people, and we need to train to understand and work with the challenges involved in conducting our air operations safely.”