The 65,000-tonne carrier’s first transatlantic deployment, which began in August, saw her embark two F-35B Lightning II test aircraft, from the Integrated Test Force (ITF) based out of Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland. She also conducted an historic, week-long visit to New York.
During the Development Trials, the jets conducted 202 takeoffs from the ship’s ski ramp, 187 vertical landings, and 15 shipborne vertical landings (SRVL) —a landing technique unique to the UK. They also dropped 54 inert bombs, testing the weight loading in a variety of weather conditions and sea states. The operating envelopes will be further expanded during Operational Trials, scheduled for next year.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: "HMS Queen Elizabeth’s inaugural deployment to the US has not only marked the return of the Royal Navy’s carrier strike capabilities, but also strengthened our special relationship with US forces. A true statement of our global reach and power, this ship will serve the United Kingdom for generations to come, keeping the nation safe and supporting our allies as we navigate increasing threats."
Who saw @HMSQnlz return to #Portsmouth yesterday? A hugely impressive scene.— HMS King Alfred (@HMSKingAlfred) December 11, 2018
A big welcome home to @HMNBPortsmouth from all the work on #Westlant19 and a very successful deployment! pic.twitter.com/iYYVpx9Rn9
Having assumed Command from Rear Admiral Jerry Kyd in New York, Captain Nick Cooke Priest summed up the deployment, saying: "The WESTLANT 18 deployment has been a real success; and let’s not forget that we are just a year on from the Ship being commissioned and accepted into service. The main effort – Fixed Wing Flying trials have delivered outstanding results, which is testament to the co-operation, hard work and dedication of both the Ship’s Company and the US Integrated Test Force, assisted by the US Navy and US Marine Corps. Their combined efforts have put us in an excellent starting position for next year’s Operational Testing. The Ship has proudly flown the flag for the UK across the Atlantic”.
Commander Air onboard, Commander James Blackmore oversaw the flight trials and said: "Since the ship sailed from build only 17 months ago we have operated Fixed Wing - most notably the F-35B - Rotary Wing and the Tilt Rotor MV-22 Osprey – 9 different aircraft types in all. We have proved the incredible design of the Queen Elizabeth Class of ship and the partnership with the F-35B. In that combination, we have something very special that will provide significant operational capability for decades to come, strategic choice for our government and a Task Group focus for the Royal Navy; we are truly back in the Super Carrier era".
The deployment was also the first for the reformed UK Carrier Strike Group staff, headed up by Cdre Michael Utley, who said: "This has been an extraordinarily successful deployment on the Royal Navy’s journey to full Carrier Strike capability. It has once again demonstrated the strongest of relationships with our closest allies in the US and will underpin future work as we re-introduce fixed wing aviation at sea.
“The design of HMS Queen Elizabeth, specifically built for the immensely capable F-35B Lightning II, has enabled outstanding progress which will form the basis of Operational Testing in 2019. The other Task Group units deployed, including HMS Monmouth, our new Royal Fleet Auxiliary Tanker RFA Tidespring and the Merlin Helicopters from 820 and 845 Naval Air Squadrons, as well as Royal Marines and members from our sister Services, have all contributed to this significant success."
The ‘WESTLANT 18’ Task Group comprised HMS Queen Elizabeth, HMS Monmouth, RFA Tidespring and aircraft from 820, 845 and 814 Naval Air Squadrons, as well as Royal Marines from 42 Commando and supporting units from the US Navy and US Marine Corps.
As the carrier’s escort HMS Monmouth sailed back towards her home in Plymouth, Commanding Officer, Commander Will King said: "HMS Monmouth has pioneered the way as the first unit to escort the Carrier on her historic first deployment. It marks a significant stride forward for the wider Royal Navy fleet in generating the UK’s Carrier Strike capability. The training we have been able to do amongst our combined UK and US Task Group units has benefited us enormously”.
HMS Queen Elizabeth will remain in Portsmouth during the early part of 2019 undergoing maintenance.