HMS Queen Elizabeth has various types of aircraft ready for her, she just isn’t ready to operate them yet.

Many of you might have taken note of the surreal coverage of HMS Queen Elizabeth entering harbour to claims on national TV that she has no aircraft, despite aircraft sitting on her deck.

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.

In order to prepare for operating from HMS Queen Elizabeth, Royal Navy sailors have also trained alongside their US Navy counterparts on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp. According to a US Navy press release, the Royal Navy sent six Sailors to integrate into Wasp’s flight deck operations to prepare them for their upcoming Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers.

Recent F-35 trials aboard the USS Wasp weren’t just an operational test for the United States Marine Corps, with much of the data produced being used to inform the USMC’s declaration of initial operating capability but also for the United Kingdom.

UK personnel were fully embedded in the USS Wasp trials and will use the data gathered from this event, future trials and operational deployments to support the UK’s flying trials aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth off the US coast in Autumn next year.

British F-35 pilots also recently embarked on the USS America for at-sea developmental testing phase 3 (known as DT), 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 about the upcoming trials on HMS Queen Elizabeth:

“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.”

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.

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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well i am sick of the media and internet trolls banging on about no aircraft….i think we as a nation should be well proud of this achievement,we have something that was designed and built in the UK,instead of stuff being sent here just to be assembled..i think a lot of the bad coverage is they seem to think because she has sailed into Portsmouth that is it…they do not understand there is still a lot of work to be done and a lot of trials that will carry on over the coming years before she is fully operational…no one with… Read more »


Well said.

Paul Delve

Well said + 1


The BBC presenter this morning was dreadful, for one thing he kept calling HMS Queen Elizabeth a “boat”.
Is it compulsory to be a total halfwit to get a job on morning TV in this country ?


probably one of those high paid idiots by our license fee…which should have been scrapped years always the bbc being biased about everything again…


Idiot comment above


take it your one then..

Fat Dave

Agree. License fee is an unnecessary tax


The BBC News website covers it pretty well


you do realise its not the presenter that writes the script right?

Ned Costello

No, it’s not compulsory, but it seems to help?


isn’t the story currently true? i thought the 12 that are in the US will never leave it, and are there purely for testing or is that only a few of the 12? ok I know that a lot more will come in the coming years but as of today.

Ben P

The 13 that are in the US will be coming back with the HMS QE next year when it conducts F35 trials over in the US.


Steve the ship is not ready for fixed wing fighters, it’s not even a warship yet it’s still being tested and finished off by the builders. When the ship is operational we will have the F35s to fly from it. You don’t buy the furniture before the house is finished.


it doesn’t change the situation as of today. Yes we might have the jets brought by the time the carrier is ready but we do not today and neither have we placed a firm order yet.


Should of kept the Harriers..72 sold to America for the price of one..all had undergone a refit to last another 10 or so years…The Americans put 40 straight into for parts..what a laughing stock we are.

Daniele Mandelli

The lefts ability to deride their own nation is displayed yet again.
That the carrier still has a few years of trials ahead and therefore does not need its aircraft instantly the moment it hits the water is lost to the cretins of this country, with the BBC high on the list.
Or maybe youngsters today with no experience of war or pride in their nation are just a bit thick?

Evan P

Hello, I am young and left wing, and I can safely say I want the size of the Navy to increase and nobody my age cares enough about this to be bothered about if it has aircraft or not. It isn’t a “feature” of the left to not know much about our armed forces, I doubt Theresa May knows anything about them either. I hope that clears some things up for you.


Daniele stop with the whole left wing thing, you can be left wing and believe in strong armed forces+ love your country, these are not the property of the right. Communist Russia never had an issue with either.

Fat Dave

No, you can’t. The left will always oppose the armed forces and hate the UK. That’s what socialism is all about


Well dam I’m going to have to fall out with myself then….


Sorry Dave you’re knowledge of the left seems to have come from the Sun or Daily Fail Socialsm is not about destroying the country’s ability to defend itself it does have views on how it should be used in offence.

Geoff Goldberg

“I am young and left wing”

You can just say young.


What a bizzare comment Daniele.

I’m young, liberal and a massive Jez supporter and I care massively for the armed forces particularly the Navy.

People who say labour and the “left” in general are soft on defence obviously know nothing of this countries political history over the last century.

I was over the moon watching tv this morning it was a proud moment, spoke with my mates at work about it also, they knew about it, suppose we’re not “thick” after all.


I think it’s dangerous to classify whole groups of people as one thing or another – especially not to question their patriotism. People are complicated, nuanced and if on this forum I suspect pro our armed forces. Labour has traditionally been a strong supporter of defence (more so than the Tories). It has some super new MP’s who both understand the issues and are prepared to be vocal about them including holding the Govt to account on their tough talking but cut cut cut reality. The issue for many people re Labour on defence is not the party but the… Read more »

Fat Dave

Labour has never, ever been a strong supporter of Defence. Before 1979, even some junior officers were paid below the national average. Labour has proven history of deriding the military, cutting defence and ridiculing the commitment of those who serve.


Behave yourself, labour has supported nearly every conflict since the ww1, Aden, Malaya, suez, Greece were all Labour. Start of the falklands Foot demanded the government “prove by deeds” that it had not “betrayed” the Falkland Islanders, got a rousing response from all sides. It was Kinnock who rescued the bumbling Major in the first gulf war backing Bush in the commons, another rousing response from all sides. Blair invaded Iraq, even in the debate on getting involved with Syria it was Hillary Benn a labour MP who gave the best speech backing military intervention. There has always been backbenchers… Read more »


Somebody tweeted that the QE Class has been declared as obsolete with no role, and we don’t have any planes for it anyway because budget cuts have cancelled them. When he asked why he was talking nonsense he insisted it was true because the presenter of “Good Morning Britain” said it.



Howard Newman

Whoever tweeted that must have been working wonders to get that idiotic comment out of their single brain cell.

Simon Hall

Took my daughter who is 7 and son aged 9 down to Portsmouth this morning waking them up at 5am.

None of us or the hundreds of other spectators were disappointed. Looking forward to seeing this great ship progress in the future.

Mr Bell

Here here, Simon Hall
good man! A true British patriot. Wished i lived closer to Portsmouth and was not at work serving my country today otherwise would have been there.

Peter ward

I think that a lot of people are concerned on two fronts, a the costs of two carriers and b, what is their role in the2020s-2060?


If you want a good uncritical article from the MSM, strangely there’s one on the Herald (old Glasgow Herald). Maybe they read my postings, because I too am sick and tired of the uninformed detractors.


“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.”

Yup, exactly why the ski jump and F35-B is the correct approach for the UK, and always was.

John Burton

It’s a great pity that British aircraft manufacturers are not able to design and construct warplanes to fly off this impressive ship. We were once leaders in invention and innovation but now we have to rely on the US to provide them.

Jason Gunn

I served in the army, I think the armed forces is the nation’s greatest asset and I voted Labour, so not sure what all this left wing crap is all about. My friend also Labour helped design some of the weapons system on the new carrier. Just as a final point my battalion (3 Royal Anglian) was scrapped by the military supporting Tories, and on top of that it was David Cameron who scrapped the Harrier before we had a replacement aircraft ready.

David owen

Regarding all the above comments which are all very fare ,the lack of aircraft the f35s that will be the air wing are poor indicators of our defence budget granted the spend is over a lot of years our people need the stuff right now 12 fighters is not good enough for the carriers with beefed up helicopter wing ,it is good to see that the USMC will fly with our guys when the program will bare fruit ,if any politician who reads the journal put our navy back in the top four of this world with more type 26,31and… Read more »

Jassy Von Spik

138 F35B rounded at $100,000,000 each that’s $13,800,000,000 now account for parts maintenance upgrades over the lifetime of the air fleet. That is at least double, so that’s $27,600,000,000 and the UK yearly Defence budget as it stands today is $60,000,000,000.. I’m not an accountant, or a banker, so can someone please help me and show me how you balance the budget for this please?


When does the first Type 45 come out of refit with the final fix to the propulsion system? Seems to me this as much as F-35B numbers is the constraining item to QE being operational.


I sent an email to the BBC as QE entered Portsmouth informing them that they were talking bollocks that helicopters weren’t aircraft, confusing everyone. No reply!

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