HMS Queen Elizabeth
Sea vessels

HMS Queen Elizabeth: All You Need To Know About Britain's Aircraft Carrier

The aircraft carrier can be thought of as a base at sea and can carry up to 72 aircraft at maximum capacity.

HMS Queen Elizabeth

The carrier's first visit to an overseas port was in Gibraltar in 2018 (Picture: MOD).

HMS Queen Elizabeth is the largest and most powerful vessel ever constructed for the Royal Navy, set to enter service in 2020.

The aircraft carrier is currently embarking on further at-sea training ahead of her deployment back to the United States for more F-35 flight trials. 

Last year, she spent four months on America's east coast, where F-35s conducted more than 500 takeoffs and landings

In February, then-Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed that her first mission will take place in the Pacific region, where Beijing has been involved in a dispute over navigation rights and territorial claims in the South China Sea.

However, he had to defend the plans, after China is said to have cancelled trade talks with the UK following the announcement.

HMS Queen Elizabeth can be thought of as a base like RAF Marham at sea and can carry up to 72 aircraft at maximum capacity. 

During her estimated 50-year working life, HMS Queen Elizabeth could be pressed into action for various work such as high-intensity warfighting or providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief anywhere in the world.

The carrier has been subject to criticism due to its computer system, which reportedly runs on the same operating system that was hit by a cyber attack in May 2018, and to its security measures, which were challenged after an unauthorised drone landed on her dock.

HMS Queen Elizabeth with Merlin
HMS Queen Elizabeth is the largest and most powerful vessel ever constructed for the Royal Navy (Picture: Royal Navy).

The Key Numbers:

  • The project to build HMS Queen Elizabeth and sister ship HMS Prince of Wales cost more than £6 billion.
  • The aircraft carrier weighs 65,000 tonnes and has a top speed of 25 knots.
  • Its flight deck is 280 metres long and 70 metres wide - enough space for three football pitches.
  • The ship is the second in the Royal Navy to be named Queen Elizabeth.
  • The ship will have a crew of around 700, increasing to 1,600 when a full complement of F-35 jets and Crowsnest helicopters are embarked.
  • There are 364,000 metres of pipes inside the ship.
  • Both HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales will keep 45 days' worth of food in its stores.
  • The entire Ship's Company of 700 can be served a meal within 90 minutes - 45 minutes when at action station.
  • Leaving the Rosyth dock was among the most difficult manoeuvres in the sea trials, with just 50cm between the bottom of the ship and the seabed in the port.
HMS Queen Elizabeth
HMS Queen Elizabeth can be thought of as a base like RAF Marham at sea and could carry up to 72 aircraft at maximum capacity (Picture: Nigel Ridgen).

The History Of British Aircraft Carriers

The Royal Navy has seen 16 different classes of aircraft carriers take to the sea since 1918, with between one and 10 ships commissioned for each class.

HMS Queen Elizabeth is both a new ship and a new class of aircraft carrier, and will be joined by her sister ship HMS Prince of Wales in 2019.
 
Before them, Britain relied on the Invincible class, which included HMS Invincible, HMS Illustrious, and HMS Ark Royal, commissioned respectively in 1980, 1982, and 1985.
 
Unlike the earlier carriers, these two most recent classes have used gas turbine engines to one degree or another. 
HMS Argus (left) HMS Furious (top right) and HMS Eagle (bottom right)
HMS Argus (left) HMS Furious (top right) and HMS Eagle (bottom right).

The engines of previous carriers were powered by boilers and geared turbines.

The first class of aircraft carrier was HMS Argus. It was laid down in 1914, and finally commissioned in 1918, and could carry 18 aircraft.

The Glorious class could carry 36 to 48 aircraft. Glorious, Courageous, and Furious, were commissioned between 1916 and 1917.

British carriers did not take on the modern look, with a control tower protruding above the flight deck, until HMS Eagle was commissioned as the only ship in her class in 1924.