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.



  1. “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

    How about serving the interests of the British people rather than your American masters, Admiral ?

  2. 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).

    • 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.

      • 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……

  3. 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?

  4. 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?

  5. 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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.

  6. 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 or 3 actual aircraft !

  7. 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.

      • 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.

        • 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 a Typhoon does not multiply the effectiveness of Typhoon because it does. Its just that having got Typhoon until 2040 and upgraded it to where it will be there is no need in the RAF for an F-35A.

          I think what we are hearing on here is a bit of name calling against the RAF for some odd reason and I think you have added a little to that by blaming ‘inter service rivalry’. Both air arms are working pretty seamlessly in the USA on jointly owned and operated aircraft with shared maintainers.

          If the FAA was given sole charge of carrier operations the RAF would still need its Harrier replacement – The F-35B. And that ‘rivalry’ might well raise its ugly head then.

          • 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.

  8. 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 weight to no benefit.

    But the fan is also taking up space in the body of the plane which the other two non-STOVL variants (the F-35A and F-35C) can use for other things. As a result, the F-35B has to use a smaller fuel tank, limiting range and loiter, but also has less space for ordnance. The B’s internal weapons bays, tucked into the body to maintain its stealth profile, are limited to two 1000-pound bombs and two air-to-air missiles, while the A and C variants can carry bombs that are twice that size. To cap it all, all that extra gadgetry also makes the B variant the most expensive option of the three to procure and operate.

    • 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.

  9. 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 not be taken lightly.

  10. 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 their carriers.

  11. 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 was debated early on to build them in that configuration and it was later decided to drop it probably because of all the difficulty our Navy is experiencing with the electronic catapults. But I think that if it can be done it would be a great force multiplier as it would obviously allow for any Naval fighter to operate from its decks and give your nation more flexibility when deciding on the typhoon replacement and the next decade. This is more important when given the facts that both the United States and the UK are not only dealing with flatlined or further reduction in their Naval budgets but also are becoming increasingly intertwined as far as training and operations. Obviously the former is a bad thing while two more that the two navies can work almost as one of the better for both of our countries. My concern isn’t just a situation of the number of planes and how long it’s going to be for you to get a full air arm but your number of ships is and even more worrying concern at least four planners here in the US. As it stands you would never have the escort ships to send both carriers out even if you could scrounge up enough planes to give them a full air wing. Isn’t the fact that you are surface Navy has atrophied to a point that it’s not really a credible Global Force any longer the biggest challenge facing the RN and your whole military? I truly hope that there are politicians that see what’s taken place and can stay in power long enough to get things set in order to remedy it. I’ll admit I don’t know nearly as much as any of you about your military but I can say that growing up with a love for history I’ve read about the amazing accomplishments that your country was able to achieve that was done because of the mighty Navy that you possess. When I got into doing a little bit of reading about a problem that your destroyers were having with warm water operation and I saw the chart for your active Fleet I thought it was a joke at first and then I was horrified to learn that your Navy is indeed that small with some of your so-called combat ships being more like Patrol boats.
    But back to my original point. I know that our militaries and especially our navies have gone to Great Lengths to increase interoperability and cross fitting each other’s ships with pilots and Marines. So to me seems that that putting u.s. Marine planes on your carriers something that is already planned will lead to maximizing the combat Effectiveness and deployability of not only your carriers but also would allow us to bring more Firepower to bear with their wings it otherwise might not be able to join the fight. So it’s obviously a win-win for both Nations, but if even one of them were to be converted to a CATOBAR, especially when the EMALS system has always Kinks worked out it would open up the ship to carry any plane in the US inventory. And this is where the final Advantage would come into play as rather than continuing to fill out your order with f-35b it would allow your Navy to go with the f-35c model which would give it the increased range that is going to become more crucial with Nations like China basing their entire defense on the principle of A2/AD.
    And I’m sure that the RN will apply what the United States has learned and that a Hi-Lo mix of F-35 kicking down the door and using your typhoons as the bomb trucks members have mentioned using extreme standoff weapons will be the tactics of choice especially with support aircraft like AWACS and tankers being the actual targets that the Chinese are looking at as they can take out the entire squadrons by Downing their gas tanks. Thanks for putting up with my lengthy post but I would like to get your thoughts on the possibility of the conversion and if it’s something that start of?
    The inter-service Rivalry is certainly not an issue plaguing only the UK as it’s been taken to ridiculous lengths here in the United States. Like the Marines receiving a patent on their camouflage pattern and not allowing any other service at to use it because of branding. Even though they stole it directly from the Canadians. In fact the u.s. Marines was going to be folded into the army just a few years ago and now they are cutting out every single low end weapon system they have in order to get the most expensive fighter plane the 2 most expensive helicopters ever manufactured not to mention that they have amphibian carriers of Their Own and that despite being a subordinate unit in the smallest branch of our military their budget is vastly more expensive than any of the other branches when compared to their size. After dealing with army hand me downs on Infantry and armor systems they are now going to be feeling the most high-tech and expensive weapons in that area as well. They’re taking advantage of the fact that Marines hold all the top positions in the military and they’re headed down a path that isn’t sustainable. To me it’s pathetic that the politicians allow this to go on on any level much less to the extent that it’s been taken with the USMC. And I apologize again for jumping in and venting on that as it’s got nothing to do with the UK my my apologies gentleman.

  12. 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.


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