Navy

On Board HMS Queen Elizabeth With British F-35Bs

The arrival of the F-35Bs marks a major milestone in the aircraft carrier's journey to becoming operational. 

For the first time in nearly a decade, British fighter jets have been flying from a British aircraft carrier. 

Forces News was the only British broadcaster on board HMS Queen Elizabeth to see the F-35Bs from RAF Marham in action.

The arrival of the jets means the carrier strike group has now entered the next stage of operational testing.

Air Marshal Gerry Mayhew, RAF Deputy Commander of Operations, told Forces News it has been "a long time coming".

"This is about crawling, walking and running - we're coming out of crawling to walk as was always expected at this stage," he said. 

The £3.1 billion aircraft carrier is currently 140 miles off the east coast of Florida.

HMS Queen Elizabeth travelled to America's east coast at the end of August as part of Westlant 19.

British F-35B taxiis on HMS Queen Elizabeth's flight deck 181019 CREDIT BFBS
The F-35B is designed to be used by both the RAF and the Royal Navy.

The deployment is focused on testing and developing the ship's capability to lead a carrier strike group, with the F-35Bs a major part of it. 

But landing on a moving aircraft carrier is much more difficult than landing on solid ground.

"It's a different skill set," said pilot, Wing Commander Adam Curd.

"We've prepared very heavily in the simulators both at Warton [BAE Systems facility] and at Marham itself. 

"I think we're pretty well-prepared and that training has paid off here but it focuses the mind and it is a new thing for all of us."

British F-35B takes off from HMS Queen Elizabeth's ski ramp 181019 CREDIT BFBS.jpg
A jet takes off from the aircraft carrier's ski ramp.

The UK has been without carrier strike capability since 2010.

It was dubbed a "capability holiday", but the arrival of the F-35Bs on the ship means that break is now coming to an end. 

The UK has invested billions of pounds into the fifth-generation HMS Queen Elizabeth and F-35B project.

Lieutenant Commander Matt Fooks-Bale, an F-35B pilot, says it is a huge step forward.

"I used to fly Harrier GR7s and GR9s back in the 2008 to 2009 timeframe - it really is a generation or two on from that," he said.

"The automation, the ability, the sense of fusion, the ability to switch from one capability to another capability, seamlessly, [is] really what stands this jet out as a fifth-gen aircraft."

WATCH: Vice Admiral Jerry Kyd speaks to Forces News.

The arrival of the F-35Bs marks a major milestone in HMS Queen Elizabeth's journey to becoming operational. 

However, she is not expected to be declared operational for at least another year. 

Vice Admiral Jerry Kyd, HMS Queen Elizabeth's first captain and now Royal Navy Fleet Commander, told Forces News: "There's probably nothing more complicated in terms of military operations than a carrier strike group.

"So, it takes time to develop those skills...remember those muscles moves you had ten years ago.

"We're very, very pleased with the rate of progress and we're absolutely on time."

It is hoped that HMS Queen Elizabeth will be declared operations-ready in around a year.

She is expected to be deployed for the first time in 2021.