Both Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers have four-acre flight decks that are 3 times larger than their Invincible Class predecessor.

“The reason that we have arrived at what we have arrived at is because to do the initial strike package, that deep strike package, we have done really quite detailed calculations and we have come out with the figure of 36 joint strike fighters, and that is what has driven the size of it, and that is to be able to deliver the weight of effort that you need for these operations that we are planning in the future. That is the thing that has made us arrive at that size of deck and that size of ship, to enable that to happen.

I have talked with the Chief of Naval Operations in America. He is very keen for us to get these because he sees us slotting in with his carrier groups. For example, in Afghanistan last year they had to call on the French to bail them out with their carrier. He really wants us to have these, but he wants us to have same sort of clout as one of their carriers, which is this figure at 36. He would find that very useful, and really we would mix and match with that.” — Admiral Sir Alan West, evidence to the Select Committee on Defence, 24 November 2004

The advantage of additional space will enable the QE Class to launch more aircraft than HMS Illustrious ever could. The addition of aircraft lifts on the ship’s side also means that flying operations will continue whilst moving aircraft between the hangar and deck. HMS Illustrious didn’t have this luxury due its lift being fitted in the middle of the flight deck, requiring take off and landings to stop while aircraft were lifted to and from the hangar.

The large flight deck enables the F-35B Lightning, a Short Take Off Vertical Landing (STOVL) aircraft the versatility to conduct multiple roles before returning to the ship with either a vertical landing or a Ship-borne Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL). This technique provides additional lift making it possible to return with a greater amount of unused fuel or weaponry.

The F-35B has an incredibly powerful engine which creates a large amount of heat and noise. Cdr Deller, who was previously Cdr Air on HMS Illustrious said, “previously, we were limited to two consecutive landings on any given spot, any more than that and you were in danger of overheating the deck which could cause tyres to burst”.

The MoD Carrier Power blog adds:

“The flight decks of both QE Class benefit from innovative British engineered technology called Thermal Metallic Spray (TMS); this helps to prevent the deck from overheating and enables more frequent use of landing spots, increasing the options available to the team in the Flying Control Tower.

It’s not just fast jets that will operate from the two QE Class aircraft carriers. They will also be able to operate up to ten helicopters at the same time. Whether that’s inserting Royal Marines for a mission or providing disaster relief, this capacity significantly increases the impact which the ship can have and the speed at which it is delivered.”

HMS Queen Elizabeth is currently undertaking sea trials and is expected to embark her first F-35B Lightning jets towards the end of 2018 as a part of her journey towards being fully operational.

The UK is on track to deliver a Carrier Strike capability from 2020, read more here.


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“I have talked with the Chief of Naval Operations in America. He is very keen for us to get these because he sees us slotting in with his carrier groups. For example, in Afghanistan last year they had to call on the French to bail them out with their carrier. He really wants us to have these, but he wants us to have same sort of clout as one of their carriers, which is this figure at 36. He would find that very useful, and really we would mix and match with that.” — Admiral Sir Alan West, evidence to… Read more »


I used to get annoyed with people complaining about having two hulking great carriers with “no aircraft to put on them”, with the answer that it’s better to have two carriers that are ready for expansion but with few aircraft to start with, than two smaller ones choc a bloc with aircraft and nowhere to expand further.

Well, it looks like the UK is managing (somehow) to have both the large carriers fit for task, and aircraft to put on them (both fixed and rotating).

John Clark

Agreed, its going to be fantastic capability for any future PM to call upon.
10 years from now, when mature, they will probably the only real Fleet Carriers in Europe, able to project serious force and worldwide influence.
As in the 2030 timeframe, the CDG at 30, will be getting increasingly elderly and unsupportable. She will spend most of her time alongside under repair.
The French will have to get a replacement program underway in the next 5 years if they want to stay in the fleet Carrier game.


It will work fine as long as the RAF do not get their fingers into the carrier air group. They are the reason that the carriers are currently devoid of aircraft.

geoffrey james roach

Isn’t there some talk about the R A F reverting to the F35A with 50/60 aircraft? If so do the B’s all become F A A ?. This may be rubbish but I thought I read it somewhere.


Dan – Can you please explain why you just made that allegation given that the RAF and FAA are training together and all aircraft will be available to both services? Where exactly has the RAF managed to hive off aircraft the FAA knows nothing about?

Of course the real reason the QE has no aircraft is more likely because it is in final fit out, hasn’t been commissioned and she is in Portsmouth and the aircraft are in the USA……

Alan Jarvis

I’m getting bored with reading rehashed stories about these two aircraft carriers. Are there any other things happening in the navy or is everything gone into hibernation?

Alan Jarvis

I’m getting bored with reading jam tomorrow rehashed stories about these two aircraft carriers. Are there any other things happening in the navy or is everything gone into hibernation?

Mike Saul

The RAF does want the A variant rather than the B one.

The UK has a requirement for 138 F35 aircaft, but deliveries will be spread over a considerable term period maybe to the 2040s.

We will only ever have enough F35B to equip one carrier for combat operations.

David Stephen

Not sure about that Mike. We will have 4 frontline squadrons and an OCU, all with 12 aircraft. Thats an operational fleet of 60 which in an emergency like the Falklands could all be deployed. Thats plenty to fill both flight decks when added to the available helicopters.

Mike Saul

David I made two points, first the RAF would like the A variant and not the B and secondly deliveries would be spread of all 138 F35, whatever variant, would be spread over a 25 year period.

In my opinion that would hinder the ability to have a two carrier strike capability, one at best.

It’s not a question of filling up the flight deck, it’s a question of warfighting viability.

Time will tell if I am right.


To fill both flight decks would require a minimum of 72 aircraft.

David Stephen

Yes, but not all fighters. One carrier in the Strike role with 3 squadrons of F35B (36) and 14 Merlin (9 ASW & 5 AEW) and the second carrier in the LPH role can carry the other 2 squadrons as well as 12 Merlin HC3 and 6/8 Apache. So in extremis we could sortie with 60 fighters and 30 odd helicopters.

David Steeper

I think the talk about the RAF wanting the A variant was just kite flying by some in the RAF. They consider the fleet air arm as their mortal enemy because they do far more with far less and whisper it but better as well. It’s infantile and I think is getting better. The RAF should and are pulling their socks up and getting better at their job. But they need to slim down there’s far too many useless mouths with nothing to do but sit on their derrieres eg flipping wing commanders in charge of ‘squadrons’ consisting of 2… Read more »

Mike Saul

The A variant offers greater warfighting capability at a lower procurement and on going support costs.

In certain circumstances to carry a mission it would require 3 F35A or 5 F35B to inflict the same damage to an enemy.

I can see why the RAF would wish to buy A instead of B.

David Steeper

And the fact that the it would mean no chance of RAF aircraft on the carriers is just a coincidence ?

Mike Saul

I would never under estimate interservice rivalry, part of the reason why we find ourselves in such a mess on defence matters is that rivalry.


Bollox. You just made up that nonsense.

Mike Saul

Do not accept that the F35A can fly further with a greater munition load than a F35B?


Mike – I really can’t wear the ‘F-35A’ argument at all in the current and medium term and the reason for that has the name ‘Typhoon’ on it. When that takes over from Tornado in 2019 it will be a major front line battle winner and one hell of a bomb truck. The F-35 in none of its forms can deliver what the Typhoon can now (or soon will) deliver. And of course as soon as you bolt on wing pylons the ‘stealth’ bit goes right out the exhaust venturi…. That does not mean to say the F-35 working with… Read more »

Mike Saul

Chris, do you not think a fifth generation aircraft such as F35 does not offer significant advantages over a fourth generation aircraft such as Typhoon?

If money was no object, then surely any air arm would wish to replace all its aircraft with a fifth generation ones.

The only reason the RAF will retain typhoon is a lack of money to replace it, compared to F35 it’s an obsolete platform. Just as the gladiator bi plane was obsolete when compared to the spitfire.

Mike Saul

The F35A can fly 33% further than a B variant. The F35A can 100% greater internal load than a B variant. The problem is the extra hardware that goes into the B variant to make STOVL possible. Not only does the engine have to tilt down 90 degrees, but to balance the lift (and provide more of it), the F-35B has to incorporate a giant fan in the front half of the plane that pushes air downwards. The fan doesn’t have a use outside of take-off and landing, which means while the F-35B is flying, it’s lugging around that extra… Read more »

David Stephen

Yes but none of the weapons we have currently or are looking to procure need the longer weapons bay and the range is irrelevant if you don’t have enough planes to deliver an effective strike. We are getting an operational fleet of 60 aircraft, any split in such a small fleet would be entirely stupid. Two separate fleets of 30 aircraft would be useless. That would make an absolute mockery of the carrier programme. The RAF need to behave themselves.

John Stevens

Fantastic ships with the awesome aircraft the F35.. No complaints from me.


Mike Saul, You can’t possibly believe the Typhoon is obsolete? Have you ever seen the post exercise reports of how Typhoon performs on Red Flag? It’s probably the best 4th Gen + jet out there. The F35 in all it’s forms is a great piece of kit and as mentioned above combined with the Typhoon will help the UK deliver significant force and projection of Air Power. Now we’re a few years away from realising the full potential of both these aircraft but from 2025 onwards we’ll have a pretty potent air package (small than we’d like for sure) but… Read more »

David Southern

Now where’s TH? for entertainment value of course! Is there a bank holiday in Russia today?

David Stephen

One torpedo to sink the carrier? I think not.


Yes one torpedo would be plenty

John Clark

Now you did ask for that one David!!!


It’s a wonderful new major naval asset. But it is not clever not to arm it with medium nor short range SAMs. In war many things can happen leaving a carrier without either adequate escort or air cover(CAP, ASW or anti surface attack), . In those situations those thousand++ servicemen alone need more than the last ditch defense Phalanx systems provide, besides protecting the massive investment in the ship itself. US carriers have evolved sea sparrows plus RAM in addition to Phalanx despite the USN having far more escorts available than the RN has & the Russians always fully arm… Read more »

J Fiery

Hello gentlemen, A Yank here who’s going to jump in with a few questions I hope you can help me out with. If I’m completely clueless or my ideas have no merit in fact please don’t hesitate to say so and why. Also I apologize it whatever the opposite word for laconic is would apply to me so please forgive me for a long post. I was hoping that you could fill me in on whether it’s true that the carrier has the ability to be converted in the future to a CATOBAR? I ask this because I know it… Read more »

Steve R

Early days, remember the RN doesn’t even own the ship yet! In due course I would expect to see Sea Ceptor added, there’s certainly no lack of space – another advantage of the ‘big and roomy’ design. My own choice of location would be the starboard sponson forward of the bridge where a Phalanx is currently located, 32 cells could easily be accommodated there. Reloading at sea using the mobile crane could also be a possibility, given the ships’ magazine capacity.