Atlantic Ocean—What a few years ago was only a dream ebbs ever closer to becoming a reality.
The first F-35B Lightning II aircraft have landed on HMS Queen Elizabeth, the UK’s newest aircraft carrier. Two U.S. F-35Bs flown by British Royal Navy pilots landed successfully on the carrier. But when the HMS Queen Elizabeth returns to the UK, British jets will land on its deck.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is destined to become the Royal Navy’s flagship. It left Portsmouth last month to begin flight trials in the U.S. It will conduct more than 500 F-35B takeoffs whilst at sea.
Gavin Williamson, the UK Defence Secretary, said, “The largest warship in British history is joining forces with the most advanced fighter jets on the planet. This marks a rebirth of our power to strike decisively from the seas anywhere in the world.”
The B variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is designed for naval operations. It can be launched from a carrier’s sling, and it can also land vertically due to its short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) capabilities.
In an interesting turn of events, HMS Queen Elizabeth’s Commanding Officer was also the captain of the UK’s last carrier, HMS Ark Royal. He witnessed the last launch of the venerable Harrier from the ship’s deck. “I am quite emotional to be here in HMS Queen Elizabeth seeing the return of fixed-wing aviation, having been the captain of the aircraft carrier which launched the last Harrier at sea nearly eight years ago,” said Captain Jerry Kyd (RN).
He went on to argue about the benefits that an aircraft carrier will give to the UK “The regeneration of big deck carriers able to operate globally, as we are proving here on this deployment, is a major step forward for the United Kingdom’s defence and our ability to match the increasing pace of our adversaries.”
“The historic first landing on the deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth is a monumental moment in our country’s proud military history. It is also a statement of Britain’s determination to promote peace and prevent war,” added Williamson.
The UK is planning to purchase 138 F-35Bs, for $247 million apiece.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is expected to be operational by 2021. Her sister ship, HMS Prince of Wales, is still under construction. There has been quite some controversy behind the two ships. Many in Britain considered them to be just two huge targets. Others, however, see them as a material statement of Britain’s new global strategy.
The future flagship of the Royal Navy is scheduled to make a port call in New York in the upcoming weeks.