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 is the largest and most powerful vessel ever constructed for the Royal Navy.

The £3.2bn aircraft carrier was described as being "on the cusp of operations" earlier this year.

Now, HMS Queen Elizabeth has returned to base after forming a UK Carrier Strike Group for the first time.

She was in the North Sea, alongside the Strike Group, as part of Exercise Joint Warrior - NATO's largest annual exercise. 

During Exercise Joint Warrior, the Royal Navy described the UK Carrier Strike Group as "the largest and most powerful European-led maritime force in almost 20 years".

Merlin on HMS Queen Elizabeth - credit - Royal Navy
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.
  • Can carry up to 72 aircraft, with a maximum capacity of 36 F-35B fighter jets. It is more likely the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers will have up to 24 Lightning jets on board for operations however.
  • 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-35B 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.
British F-35Bs land on HMS Queen Elizabeth (Picture: MOD).

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 was joined by her sister ship HMS Prince of Wales in 2019.
Before the two carriers, 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 Queen Elizabeth is spending time working with a Carrier Strike Group as part of Exercise Joint Warrior (Picture: Royal Navy).

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.

Two squadrons of Lightning aircraft embarked on the ship last month - the largest group of aircraft on a Royal Navy carrier since HMS Hermes was in service.