HMS Queen Elizabeth has sailed from Portsmouth Naval Base for the first time for trials but what will she be doing?

According to her builders, this phase of sea trials will primarily test the ship’s sensors, which include the radar and communications systems.

During this period, the vessel also undertake further propulsion trials and conduct air flow pattern tests, which demonstrate how air across the flight deck will affect aircraft taking off and landing.

HMS Queen Elizabeth is expected to be at sea for the next month and will be delivered to the Royal Navy by the end of the year.

Her first phase of sea trials, conducted earlier this year, demonstrated the platform stability and manoeuvrability.

Commanding Officer Captain Jerry Kyd, said:

“She was stable and strong, which is important for aviation operations from an aircraft carrier flight deck. Very quickly we were able to run her at full power and she performed extremely well.”

What will the vessels carry?

The term now used for the carriers embarked squadrons is ‘Carrier Air Wing’ (CVW). The vessels are capable of deploying a variety of aircraft in large numbers, up to a maximum in the upper fifties in surge conditions.

Merlin helicopters were the first aircraft to begin flying from HMS Queen Elizabeth and they will soon be followed by other helicopter types and eventually F-35s in around 11 months.

The UK currently has 13 F-35s with more being delivered. The plan, essentially, is to work up both the ship and her aircraft simultaneously to a point where the jets can begin integrating with the carrier. To that end both will require a series of trials to ensure they can function together safely and this complex programme of trials are already underway.

Captain Jerry Kyd, commander of HMS Queen Elizabeth, commented on the initial deployment and the gradual increase in air wing numbers:

“We are constrained by the F-35 buy rate even though that was accelerated in SDSR in 2015, so initial operating capability numbers in 2020 are going to be very modest indeed.

We will flesh it out with helicopters, and a lot depends on how many USMC F-35s come on our first deployment in 2021. But by 2023, we are committed to 24 UK jets onboard, and after that it’s too far away to say.”

In 2023, the UK will have 42 F-35 aircraft, with 24 being front-line fighters and the remaining 18 will be used for training (at least 5 on the OCU), be in reserve or in maintenance.

In addition to the joint force of Royal Air Force and Royal Navy F-35Bs and their pilots, the air wing is expected to be composed of a ‘Maritime Force Protection’ package of nine anti-submarine Merlin HM2 and four or five Merlin for airborne early warning; alternatively a ‘Littoral Manoeuvre’ package could include a mix of RAF Chinooks, Army Apaches, Merlin and Wildcat.

We understand that vessel would still carry at least one F-35 squadron aboard in such circumstances to offer air defence as well as support to the helicopter assault activities.

The Crowsnest AEW&C aircraft will come from a number of the embarked Merlins (any of which can be fitted with the sensor package), the number again scaling with requirements.

Recently, the Ministry of Defence confirmed plans for the deployment of American F-35 aircraft alongside British jets aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The addition of US Marine Corps aircraft will see HMS Queen Elizabeth sail with 24 or so F-35Bs in addition to around 14 or so helicopters for her maiden deployment. It is understood that the US aircraft will augment British jets on coalition operations.

A source we spoke to, currently flying the jet, explained to us that the vessels will deploy with the number and type of aircraft required for a specific deployments:

“Where F-35B is based is entirely down to the most suitable basing option for the tasks/missions is being sent to do. If that’s a well-founded host nation base, great; if it’s the Carrier, great; if it’s an austere location, fine.

Range, logistics and other ‘enablers’ such as AAR and connectivity will determine what’s the best option.”

The Queen Elizabeth class mark a change from expressing carrier power in terms of number of aircraft carried, to the number of sortie’s that can be generated from the deck. The class are not the largest class of carrier in the world but they are most likely the smallest and least expensive carrier the Royal Navy could build which still have the advantages that large carriers offer.

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Daniele Mandelli

Probably annoying ignorant people who will fins something to moan about.
Lack of aircraft being the most popular.


Oohhhh why Ooohhh why have we got a carrier without any aircraft….
Should have keep the harriers……..bound to be better than the silly F35 thingys.

David Featch
Mike Saul

I think he was being sarcastic


Sarcasm aside, we should have kept the harriers. Not because they were better than the f35b, because i don’t think they were, but because they existed and when the carriers launch, we could have had a set of jets on them from day 1, rather than having to beg the US to make our carriers look less silly for several years.


Steve – We have a full set of old SHARS down in Culdrose. I am surprised some bright, well paid spark at the MoD hasn’t done a costing to get these airworthy under a limited licence. (For example flights only over sea and off the carrier). They are complete aircraft with fully working engines.


The knowledge as gone though, no one has been trained on them for over a decade, just not worth the money at this point, it was just a very short sighted move to get rid of them in the first place, but the SDSR2010 was all about instant cuts rather than sensible cuts over a period of time designed to be economical.


The Harriers were great, but I think they weren’t capable of taking modern radar, could be wrong.

Mr Bell

Hopefully she will sail straight across the Atlantic to pick up the RAM missile system she should have or go back into dock for a 48 cell seaceptor silo.
FFS she is the only strike carrier in the world with no flippin SAM….or aircraft for that matter. Christ we look stupid as a nation.


Mr Bell – Oh do give up …. How many times do people have to explain WHY there are no aircraft on board? And for the record we have 12 F-35s in the States and will have 16 with the next production batch. The main reason we have not had our full batch is that the US prioritised USMC F-35B aircraft ahead of us with our agreement given the QE timeframe. And guess what? The USS Gerald R Ford Christened, floated up and Commissioned before the QE has no aircraft. It has trapped and launched one aircraft (in August). The… Read more »


I seem to remember that the initial batch would never actually leave the US and would stay there as training jets. We just need to place a firm order for the jets that we need, which doesn’t appear to be happening any day soon.


The Ford has access to hundreds of carrier capable aircraft of various types at any given time either active or in stores. Ford doesn’t have aircraft assigned to it because it is not scheduled for deployment until autumn 2019 or late spring 2020 depending on fleet rotation. This is due to first of class service training and the overly elaborate trials demanded by Congress. As far as $16bn goes you only get to that by counting R&D. The price was was inflated by President Obama’s not avoiding sequestration of the budget. That led to construction being extended by 18 months.… Read more »


Elliott – Exactly my point. The Ford, like the QE, can and will launch and recover aircraft when the time is right. Just not now. That does not make either country look ‘stupid’ as someone suggested.

When more Ford Class ships are built the R & D cost of $4.2 Bn will progressively be spread over each build. But at the moment the USS Gerald R Ford has cost the US taxpayer over $16 Bn (and counting according to Congress).


the difference is the ford will definitely have enough aircraft available once it’s ready, the QE will not and it’s likely to be a fair few years after she is ready that they will start arriving and that is in the best case.


Steve – And why the USA has given a solid commitment to assist with USMC Squadrons if extra numbers are needed. They are very aware we gave up production space so the US could get all the ‘B’ aircraft they needed to get to IOC as soon as possible. They have hundreds now.

And I am not sure it will be a ‘fair few years’ before sufficient UK Aircraft ‘start arriving’ either. They are and have been ‘arriving’ already.


the carrier will be operational in 2020 and yet not until 2023 (3 years later) will we have 24 operational jets, which will be split usage between the RAF and the navy. From what I can tell it will likely be a decade after the carriers launch that we have enough jets to have 20 odd on the carrier, which is in my opinion the minimum normal number to have, in order to justify the size and the cost of the carriers. It currently seems unlikely that there will ever be enough for 20 on both carriers. Combine this with… Read more »

Geoffrey Roach

Are there really only three or four of us who understand how a new warship with new weapons, particularly new aircraft works up.The same points have been answered over and over again.

Steve R

Make that five. Many people don’t seem to realise the RN has not even commissioned the ship yet! How many times must the point be made that complex weapons and systems take time to integrate – and it has to be done properly!


Gentlemen, whilst I do agree with you that QE is in the midst of her work up and in truth is still to be handed over to the RN, I am comfortable with the fact there are no fixed wing aircraft flying from her deck at this stage. However, Mr. Bell does have a point with regard to her self-defence suite – or lack thereof. This has nothing to do with her work up. The fact remains there are no plans to increase her point defences beyond 3 Phalanx and we are the only carrier (soon to be operating) nation… Read more »

Dave L

Could not agree more to adding Sea Ceptor as part of the basic fit especially with the RN being short of escorts and it looks like she has the sensors for it – I’m sure the Navy would love it but probably comes down to money. 🙁


Absolutely. The USN has 3 tier carrier self AA defenses: ESSM, RAM & Phalanx. Why are our sailors & airmen deserving of lesser protection, or the huge investment the public have made in the ship? The QEs must be given a fair chance. In war you can never be sure the escorts needed are available. With RN escorts at such a low number(with no prospect of improvement) & further cuts mooted, it’s criminal insanity to under equip the QEs. HMG should get on with a firm commitment to fund further AAW weaponry.

Geoffrey Roach

I don’t think I’m going nuts but I’m sure I read an article sometime back in the summer about a container unit for Sea Ceptor but I can’t find it. Anybody??

Daniele Mandelli


Geoffrey Roach

Welcome aboard Steve!


Bump! No matter what I point out regarding the practical hazards( which are very considerable) of having and firing missiles and CIWS on a carrier or a big deck Amphib certain people just fail to consider it. From personal experience I have seen what a CIWS firing over a flight deck did. If we had people on the deck we would have killed them with the debris. If we had aircraft on the deck we would have written them off. If we had an aircraft trying to land before we cleaned up the FOD debris it would have sucked it… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli

So valuable this from someone who really knows. Thanks.


The US mounts the SEA RAM, ESSM and Phalanx either just below flight deck on a platform or on the island of the carrier or amphib to mitigate those risks. Enterprise CVN-65 and the Kitty Hawk and Forrestal classes before Phalanx was even in development so they had their CIWS mounted at deck level.


CIWS and missiles provide hemispherical coverage. If you have a top diver (AS-16 Kickback in various configurations) or even a sea skimmer with a pop-up maneuver profile ( Harpoon) coming at you it doesn’t matter where the mount is . Wind, course direction and elevation of attack all combine to blow and deposit debris everywhere. A phalanx will fire 3000 rounds per min. Each penetrater has a 2 part hard plastic sabot around it that peels away as the penetrater leaves the barrel. It also has an aluminum pusher disk behind the penertrator/sabot that also comes out of the barrel.… Read more »

Geoffrey Roach

In passing what a cracking photograph of things to come.

Daniele Mandelli

2018 617 comes back to Marham.


She is a beautiful ship Geoffrey and I am truly glad we have them!


Exciting times for the crew, and current and future pilots.


“She was stable and strong,” too late to rename her hms Theresa May?


Probably sailing around thinking (if she can think, but she has modern systems I assume), why do I have such a huge beam to length ratio and am I not longer than I could be, before the big mid-life lengthening refit. These carriers have the biggest ever beam to length ratio and are modular in build…. Just one thing HMS Queen Elizabeth is doing on her sea trials if she is thinking about it.


And why is my bow so short and ugly, is it due to the vitol aircraft?