Tim Cooper HMS Queen Elizabeth

What's It Like On Board HMS Queen Elizabeth?

Tim Cooper HMS Queen Elizabeth

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.

Forces News reporter Tim Cooper joined the ship shortly before she set sail - this is his assessment of the atmosphere on board prior to her journey...

It was rather wet and chilly as we stomped along the Princess Royal Jetty In Portsmouth Naval Base.

The carrier loomed large in front of us and seemed to brighten the mood, a hive of activity in the post-heatwave August gloom. 

Several cranes, at intervals along the jetty, were continually loading stores on to the vast ship. 

Laid out neatly on shore, all manner of items, from scaffold poles to innumerable planks of wood (useful in an emergency situation to repair a hole in the superstructure).

We climbed aboard and went to the hanger, which lies below the four-acre flight deck.

In one corner, several hundredweight of onions. Opposite, box after box of baking potatoes - 15 kilos a time, being anxiously fussed over by a chef from one of the four galleys on board.

I’ve been on this ship five times before today. From build in the dockyard in Portsmouth, to assembly in Rosyth and commissioning ceremonies to media tours.

She is always hugely impressive, yet this time there is something more... fully crewed, HMS Queen Elizabeth seems alive. 

Everywhere you look there are sailors. On deck, they’re painting white lines so the F-35B Lightning II jets can land properly. 

There are groups of boiler-suited sailors everywhere, all busy and with purpose in their eyes. 

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I talk to the man in charge, Captain Jerry Kyd. He has a glint in his eye when he tells me that everyone is focussed and excited:

"For so long everyone’s talked about the F-35s landing on the ship."

"At last that’s about to happen. Everyone just wants it to!"

Captain Kyd is immensely proud of his ship's company.

In the year since they left Rosyth, they’ve achieved so much, she has completed her sea trials, paid her first visit to the Rock and conducted first-of-class helicopter trials with Chinooks and Merlins.

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This US trip though is the big one though, 1,500 people are embarked: sailors, officers, civilian engineers and Royal Marines. 

I saw a contingent of Royal Marines on board, laden down with implausibly big packs. Although this is primarily an aircraft carrier, the Royal Navy are keen to frame the ship as a floating piece of the UK: Four acres of sovereign territory, deployable across 70% of the world - the sea!

Having reported on the military for a decade, seldom have I witnessed such a common purpose in so many military people.

There’s no doubt the Royal Navy has suffered over the last decade - the last-generation carriers were axed, the type-45s have proved unreliable and defence cuts have left their mark, particularly in retaining personnel. 

The sailors of HMS Queen Elizabeth know their ship is a game-changer. 

Captain Jerry Kyd is clear: this carrier, he tells me, places Britain at the top of the pyramid of naval power, second perhaps only to the US. 

The pride, determination and eagerness in the faces of the crew seem to show they know this and are determined to make it a reality.

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