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.