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

The largest and most powerful ship ever built for the Royal Navy returns to the UK today after flight trials in the US.

HMS Queen Elizabeth returned to the UK on Monday following a four-month deployment off the coast of the United States.

The carrier has been taking part in flight trials after making her arrival in the US in September and successfully crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

F-35B aircraft landed on the deck of the UK's new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time in September.

The landing was completed by US aircraft, flown by British pilots.

UK jets will land on deck after HMS Queen Elizabeth returns to Britain.

The Carrier's Recent History

The carrier was commissioned into the Royal Navy by her namesake on December 7, 2017.

The Royal Navy's first £3 billion aircraft carrier arrived at her new home in Portsmouth on August 16, 2017 amid a comprehensive sea trial programme.

The team responsible for controlling the vessel's future strike force have previously taken part in a US-UK exercise.  

Saxon Warrior 2017 saw more than 60 Royal Navy and Royal Marine personnel direct carrier strike operations from the deck of the USS George HW Bush to practise for the arrival of HMS Queen Elizabeth

The biggest warship ever built in Britain has been undergoing sea trials since setting sail from Rosyth dockyard in June.

The Royal Navy live streamed the 280-metre, 65,000-tonne vessel leaving the Rosyth on the Firth of Forth at the end of June.   

A Merlin helicopter was the first to land on the ship's flight deck, piloted by 26-year-old Lieutenant Luke Wraith.

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. 

During her estimated 50-year working life, HMS Queen Elizabeth could be pressed into action for various work such as high-intensity war fighting 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, and to its security measures, which were challenged after an unauthorised drone landed on her dock.

HMS Queen Elizabeth: All You Need To Know About The New Aircraft Carrier
Picture courtesy of Cascade News.

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
Picture courtesy of 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. 
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HMS Argus (left); HMS Furious (top right); 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 beween 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.
HMS Queen Elizabeth Arrives Homes