The UK’s F-35 Lightning jets have landed on HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time and are now gearing up for the vital testing phase on the aircraft carrier’s Westlant 19 deployment.
The jets – flown by Royal Navy and Royal Air Force pilots – recently touched down on the 65,000 tonne carrier as it continues its work off the east coast of the United States.
Now they are on board, the aim is to get them ready for operations from the carrier, which will become fully operational in 2021.
“Getting to this point of embarking UK F-35 jets into our British-built carrier has been a significant joint undertaking by industry and military – both ours, and those from the United States,” said Commander of the Strike Group, Commodore Mike Utley.
“We will take the jets from the successful developmental phase we achieved last year through to a more operational footing, so we are confident that the jets, the carrier and our destroyers and frigates will function seamlessly together.”
During last year’s deployment, jets from the USA were used for developmental trials, with 500 takes offs and landings taking place during 11 weeks at sea.
This time around it’s about planning sorties, arming the aircraft using the carrier’s weapons handling system and debriefing on the success of each phase.
During this time, the aircraft carrier will be escorted by Type 45 destroyer HMS Dragon, submarine hunter HMS Northumberland, tanker RFA Tideforce and Merlins from 814, 820 and 845 Naval Air Squadrons, Wildcats from 815 squadron and Royal Marines from Lima Company, 42 Commando.
Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff for Aviation and Carrier Strike, Rear Admiral Martin Connell, Royal Navy, said: “Embarking UK Lightning jets in HMS Queen Elizabeth for the very first time is a major milestone for Royal Navy and Royal Air Force aviation and for our development of the 5th generation Carrier Strike Group capability.
“Once again, the support from our US Navy and US Marine Corps colleagues in the United States has been incredible and undoubtedly helped bring us to this moment: making maritime aviation history.”
The UK will declare Initial Operating Capability for Carrier Strike by the end of 2020. The first operational deployment for HMS Queen Elizabeth 617 Squadron and a squadron of US Marine Corps Lightning jets is due to take place in 2021.