HMS Queen Elizabeth recently departed her home port bound for the United States in trials that will see her land fast jets on deck for the first time.

The ship will conduct trials in UK waters over the coming days, before departing for the United States.

The deployment, known as ‘WESTLANT 18’, will be the first-time HMS Queen Elizabeth will have sailed across the Atlantic. As well as the vital deck trials, the Royal Navy say it will also involve exercises to prove the ability to operate with other nations’ maritime and aviation assets, as well as the landing of Royal Marines and their equipment ashore in the United States, to conduct training with their US counterparts.

The Royal Navy add that the carrier will be joined by RFA Tiderace and Type-23 Frigate HMS Monmouth, as well as Merlin Mk2 helicopters from 820 Naval Air Squadron, RNAS Culdrose, Mk 4 Merlins from 845 Naval Air Squadron, RNAS Yeovilton and a contingent of Royal Marines from 42 Commando, Plymouth.

It is understood that around 200 trials support staff will be joined by two ‘orange wired’ F-35 test aircraft, belonging to the Integrated Test Force (ITF), which are expected to conduct 500 take offs and landings during their 11-week period at sea.

After speaking to one of the pilots in the test programme, I was informed 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. Therefore, it is highly likely that the jets to go on HMS Queen Elizabeth later this year will be “mostly, if not entirely, American but flown by UK pilots”.

The reason that most if not all of the aircraft to touch down will be American isn’t some scandalous outrage (just watch how some papers report this, though) but rather most of the F-35Bs in Joint Operational Test team are American.

I was told 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 aim of these initial, or ‘developmental’ trials are to ascertain, through the specially equipped aircraft and sensors around the ship, the operating parameters of the aircraft and ship, in a range of conditions. Similar successful trials were conducted by HMS Queen Elizabeth at sea earlier this year for Rotary Wing aircraft.

Four F‑35B Lightning developmental test pilots will embark to fly the aircraft; three British, one American. The British personnel comprise a Royal Navy Commander, a Squadron Leader from the Royal Air Force and one civilian test pilot. They will be joined by a Major from the US Marine Corps.

HMS Queen Elizabeth Commanding Officer, Capt Jerry Kyd said:

“This deployment to the United States will be another first for my ship. Crossing a major ocean with 1500 sailors, aircrew and Marines embarked and the spectacle of the first F-35B Lightning landing on the deck in September is very exciting for us all. It has been an incredible journey since we left Rosyth just over a year ago and we are all looking forward to this next, seminal chapter in HMS Queen Elizabeth’s life.”

This deployment is the culmination of years of training, tests and trials. Last year, British personnel embarked on the USS America week for at-sea developmental testing phase 3 (DT3), the last trial that paves the way for the US Marine Corps to deploy the jet operationally on amphibious assault ships.

BAE Systems test pilot Pete Wilson said:

“This will not be a DT phase. Testing on the Queen Elizabeth will be like DTs 1, 2 and 3 combined. We don’t need to use fully instrumented aircraft; we already understand most of the loads on the aircraft systems, as we have tested that during earlier tests.”

As the ship’s work-up continues, so too does the regeneration of the UK’s Carrier Strike capability. Commander UK Carrier Strike Group (COMUKCSG), Cdre Andrew Betton, will take command of the ship and other units of his task group, embarking in HMS Queen Elizabeth with his Carrier Strike Group headquarters staff.

He said:

“As a critical step towards delivering the UK’s new Carrier Strike Group, this deployment demonstrates the astonishing collaborative effort that will enable the new F-35 jets to fly routinely from our Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers.

At the heart of the Maritime Task Group, the aircraft carrier is well protected and sustained, ready to operate around the world as a potent and exceptionally flexible instrument of our foreign policy. These first F-35B embarked trials in a UK aircraft carrier are not only key to future operational success, but represent an iconic moment for the modern Royal Navy.”

32 COMMENTS

  1. This article repeats various others over the past few weeks. It would be however interesting to know what QE’s air contingent is doing during its voyage across the Atlantic if such info is available.

    @DefenceJournal – can we have an article on the status and progress of Typhoon Project Centurion – I understand aircraft are now being released to squadrons – it would be good to know how aircraft will be assimilated into the fleet and how many will be available once the last Tornados are retired

    • Yes, Centurion would be interesting! Including what additional capabilities it is bringing etc. Any updates on when Captor-E is going to be fitted would be nice too.

  2. I cannot wait to see how some of ‘Fleet Street’ try to spin this as some sort of conspiracy. I wonder how their victriol will try to paint this as a betrayal!

      • Hilarious!

        I don’t think hiding Missile Defence Systems in lorries is a bad idea actually if they are for home defence. The Russians put missiles on trains to complicate their targeting and the US had a similar idea once.

        • I think Gavin Williamson has a pathological dislike for Coca-Cola so he is putting out this idea that missile defence systems might be hidden in Coca-Cola vans so that they become legitimate targets in time of war. I’m guessing that the tractor thing is similar, farmers ploughing up fields with tractors kill too many big spiders for his liking (although admittedly not tarantulas) so he’s trying to make them legitimate wartime targets as well. That’s my conspiracy theory anyway and I’m sticking to it 🙂 .

        • Indeed.

          And modifying some civilian ships for disaster relief purposes would certainly help free up assets, and boost fleet numbers if they are made part of the RFA. I think ships like Argus and Diligence (particularly Argus) have proved their worth many times.

          • I’m sure there were other examples of STUFT that became permanent fleet assets? Sea Centurion? Sea Crusader?
            Also I recall the Sir Class was augmented by STUFT don’t remember the names now?

          • What the Sun in its ignorance doesn’t realise is that P & O ferry ships would actually make excellent amphibious assault ships and have already done so (see below)! Having done a few thousand crossings when I was taking trucks to various parts of Europe and COMECON I know they could deliver a few thousand troops and some heavy tracked and wheeled vehicles in short order.

            Next time one comes up for scrap we should buy it and do some prototype work. After all the RMs and British Army went to war in ’82 in liners. And I seem to recall two P & O ferries were used then – Nordic Ferry and Baltic Ferry from the Zeebrugge route.

    • i suspect ‘the usual suspects’ are behind it if the M.O.D had stuck to their usual ways the information surrounding the drip feed of information was managed better a spanner would have been put into our so called press.

    • (Chris H) Does this signify Babcock now know they aren’t getting Type 31? Wasn’t the use of Appledore one of their key bid factors?

      If Cammell Laird have any sense even before they win Type 31 they will buy Appledore as it built some very complex bow structures for the QEs. Something they struggle with on Merseyside. And its the right side of the country

      Looking forward we seem to have the possibility of 3 core shipbuilding areas developing – Clydeside – Type 26
      Merseyside / Devon / Belfast – Type 31e
      Rosyth / Tyneside – FSS / Albion II

    • Can’t see anything in the press, but could be that Babcock can’t meet the 250m price tag for the T31 by using too many yards, so something has to give.

  3. (Chris H) Just saw on the QE Twitter feed that the last time 845 NAS embarked on an R08 pennant carrier was when they went on HMS Bulwark on exercise – called ‘Westlant’…

  4. Some of you are complaining about deja vu with the article. I used to too. But a few guys have pointed out these guys are doing this in their spare time. So give them a break please.

    • This site is run by volunteers?
      Excellent work if that’s the case I honestly thought it was an official UK government site highlighting the hard work the forces do.

      Well done everyone involved and I really think you should be given the job as the armed forces need a place like this to give out good, factual news about a section of public service that often gets ignored or downright lied about.

      • Agreed, would go a long way towards solving our recruitment problems too (in my opinion) if the MoD had a decent social media-savvy PR department that worked to show what the military is and does.

    • I think we also need to remember that this site has varying audiences. On the one hand there are the frequent commentators here that visit the site often (multiple times a day pretty much every day in my case) and we notice the times when an article is essentially cut-and-pasted from a previous article and that can be frustrating for people who have already read the previous article. The thing is though that other more casual visitors might visit this site far less frequently, maybe only ever once or twice because they’ve been searching for something specific (e.g. info on QEC’s US trip), so refreshing key articles every now and then by republishing them so they come up high on the home page and are seen as recent content by search engines helps those less frequent visitors see relevant and topical stuff that they might otherwise miss, i.e. these repostings can be seen as something that is genuinely useful to a certain section of this web site’s audience rather than the site owners being lazy and not bothering to create new content and there is usually plenty of new stuff here to accompany these article refresh/reposts anyway.

      • (Chris H) Julian – Excellent point. When you ‘Google’ something about QE or matter defence increasingly it points to this site and the relevant article. So people may not even be visiting the site as a whole just the specific item.

        There are a couple of people who think its ‘really really clever’ to make sarcastic and disparaging remarks when they couldn’t do half the job themselves. Easy to bang out two line sarcasm but try 1,000 word articles in your spare time

  5. I knew this was not an MoD or HMG affiliated site, and I’m very grateful for it too as Defence Management that I used to contribute regularly to disappeared, and Think Defence is not to my taste.

    I would recommend Gabriel’s Blog too though he does not post new articles with any regularity, and why should he, sure he has a life to lead!

    My only observation is the site seems very navy centric with little on Land Forces or wider MoD organisations.

    Not a moan just an observation and very happy to share my thoughts here with other learned ( and not so learned ! ) colleagues! 🙂

  6. (Chris H) I would be disappointed if QE returns from her US trip without our three new F-35s on board as she sails into Portsmouth for Xmas. Cheaper way to get them to Marham and they would kill the ‘carrier with no aircraft’ rubbish.

    • as soon as we have enough f35b’s to provide a full operational squadron, i’d like to see it permanently embarked. or based at culdrose where deployment to the Q.E OR P.O.W.

  7. Can someone tell me if the QE class would be able to land the MQ25 Stingray or the Lockheed Martin Sea Ghost which is meant to be a development of the F35.
    If not then why not, it seems that the next generation of deep strike/ surveillance/air to air refueling will be carried out by such aircraft. Possibly someone should look at developing the Sea Ghost with its F35 links or even the BAE Taranis as a STOVL system.
    The capabilities that they bring to the table would give the QEs a huge leap forward especially if the F35s have to go into an area that is heavily defended with advanced surface to air capabilities.

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