More warplanes than ever before have embarked on Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth ahead of exercises in the North Sea.
Two squadrons of F-35B stealth jets – the RAF’s 617 Squadron (The Dambusters) and the US Marine Corps VMFA-211 (The Wake Island Avengers) – have landed on the 65,000-tonne warship.
The aircraft carrier is preparing to take her place at the heart of a UK-led NATO Carrier Strike Group.
She will be joined by seven Royal Navy destroyers, frigates and auxiliaries, plus other supporting units to form the group, which will be put through its paces off the coast of Scotland as part of Exercise Joint Warrior – NATO's largest annual exercise.
With 14 jets and eight Merlin helicopters on board, it is the largest concentration of fighter jets to operate at sea from a Royal Navy carrier in almost 40 years.
It also represents the largest air group of fifth generation fighters at sea anywhere in the world, the Navy added.
Commodore Steve Moorhouse, Commander UK Carrier Strike Group, said: "The United Kingdom’s maritime renaissance has been unfolding over many years, as we introduced a new generation of ships, submarines and aircraft into service.
"But this marks the first time we have brought them together in a cohesive, potent, fighting force.
"HMS Queen Elizabeth will be operating with the largest air group of fifth generation fighters assembled anywhere in the world.
"Led by the Royal Navy, and backed by our closest allies, this new Carrier Strike Group puts real muscle back into NATO and sends a clear signal that the United Kingdom takes its global role seriously."
WATCH: F-35B fighter aircraft take off and land on HMS Queen Elizabeth ahead of Exercise Joint Warrior.
617 Squadron’s Commanding Officer, Royal Navy Commander Mark Sparrow, said: "This is an incredibly exciting time for 617 Squadron as we begin a new era of partnership with the US Marine Corps building towards next year’s operational deployment with HMS Queen Elizabeth.
"You need to go back more than three decades to find the UK operating anything on this scale or complexity and this is a first for fifth-generation carrier capability.
"The era of big-deck, fast jet carrier operations is back."
The £3.2bn aircraft carrier set sail from Portsmouth on Monday to take part in Exercise Joint Warrior.
She is due to return to her home port, along with her 1,680 sailors, aviators and marines, next month.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is expected to be fully operational with strike carrier capability later this year and it is hoped she will be deployed for the first time in early 2021.
Cover image: F-35B stealth fighter aircraft sit on the deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth ahead of Exercise Joint Warrior (Picture: Royal Navy).