The Royal Navy's HMS Queen Elizabeth has returned to her home base of Portsmouth and is "on the cusp of operations".
The £3 billion aircraft carrier has been in UK waters undergoing sea and flight trials for 70 days ahead of her maiden deployment in 2021.
Her return marks the first time she has arrived in Portsmouth as a "fully-trained aircraft carrier", according to the Royal Navy.
Families of the crew were unable to give the aircraft carrier the traditional quayside welcome at Portsmouth Naval Base because of COVID-19 restrictions, but some waved home their loved ones from the harbour walls.
The deployment saw the ship carry out flight trials with F-35B Lightning jets from 617 Squadron for the first time.
The squadron, known as 'The Dambusters' after the famous raids on German Dams in the Ruhr Valley in 1943, practised landing and taking off from the ship's 4.5-acre flight deck.
Commander of the UK Carrier Strike Group, Commodore Steve Moorhouse, said HMS Queen Elizabeth's return marks a pause in the training.
Prior to beginning the sea trials, the ship and her crew underwent a period of quarantine while anchored off the UK coast because of the coronavirus crisis. Two sailors were taken off after testing positive.
Minister for the Armed Forces James Heappey called HMS Queen Elizabeth's crew "extraordinary" for the mid-pandemic trials.
“They deployed at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak and have remained at sea for over 10 weeks so that they could complete their operational training with the minimal risk of infection," he said.
“They’ve put their duty to our country ahead of spending time with their families during the pandemic and in the process, they’ve taken us a step closer to, once again, having a carrier strike capability with the capacity to project British influence across the globe.”
The ship set sail from Portsmouth in April for sea trials, then returned briefly to base before setting off again for flight trials in the North Sea.
Since leaving Portsmouth at the end of April, the carrier has clocked up 11,500 miles.
“The ship’s company have worked incredibly hard over the past 70 days, making every effort to surpass the high standards set by our assessors,” said Captain Angus Essenhigh, HMS Queen Elizabeth’s Commanding Officer.
“They have come through with flying colours which means Her Majesty’s Ship Queen Elizabeth has taken a huge step towards sailing on her maiden deployment, flying the flag for the United Kingdom and demonstrating that we are a global naval power with global ambitions.”
Later this year, Navy crews will work alongside personnel and aircraft from the US Marine Corps to further understand the capability of the F-35B aircraft.
Once fully operational, HMS Queen Elizabeth will become part of a Carrier Strike Group, travelling with aircraft and vessels.
The carrier will be given specialist protection from threats on, above and below waters alongside designated fuel replenishment ships.
Cover image: MOD.