Britain’s biggest warship has had her first taste of rough seas as she notches up the milestones on her sea trials.
Following a brief pit-stop in the Scottish port of Invergordon, HMS Prince of Wales – the second, and slightly heavier, of the UK’s new aircraft carriers – is being tested in heavier seas to see how the 65,000-tonne warship handles in challenging weather: the 920ft-long carrier is currently facing a Sea State 6 (waves up to 20ft high). So far she’s carving through them relatively untroubled.
The carrier sailed from Rosyth, where she was assembled, in late September to begin an autumn of trials in the North Sea.
Aboard are experts from across the Aircraft Carrier Alliance – the partnership of Royal Navy, industry, and Defence Equipment and Support personnel formed to build the Queen Elizabeth class – working side-by-side with the ship’s company.
Achieved during the trials so far:
-- The first helicopter landing (a Merlin Mk2 of 820 Naval Air Squadron);
-- The first test of engines at full power (reaching a top speed of over 25kts);
-- The first test of long-range radar (courtesy of two RAF Typhoons from Lossiemouth);
-- The first port visit to take on supplies (fuel/stores) in Invergordon (like Queen Elizabeth before her);
-- The first test of the ship’s rugby union side (against Ross Sutherland RFC, who play in the sixth tier of Scottish rugby) – a 20-20 draw with man-of-the-match AB Jack Rutherford bagging three tries;
-- The first launch of a weather balloon by the meteorological team; it reached 70,000ft – more than 13 miles up… and 20,000ft higher than the ceiling of the ship’s F-35 Lightning jets;
-- 200 more compartments of the 3,000 aboard have been completed by contractors, leaving just 450 to finish off;
-- The first test of the forward aircraft lift moving a 105-tonne load between the hangar and flight decks;
-- The first test of the ‘citadel’ – the supposedly-impregnable self-contained heart of the ship where sailors are protected from the effects of chemical, nuclear and biological warfare;
-- And the first test of her small-calibre guns.
The latter are Prince of Wales’ last line of defence against small fast craft – such as jetskis or speedboats.
Should they somehow evade each outer layer of the carrier’s defence (frigate, destroyers, automated guns and decoys), the onus of protecting the ship relies on the marksmanship of her gunnery team.
Among those being assessed was Able Seaman Alex Derry said: “Not only I was the first sailor on HMS Prince of Wales to go under the Forth Bridge during our departure from Rosyth, but I also had the great honour to be the first gunnery rating to take part in a live machine-gun firing.
“Being able to take part in both historic events fills me with a great sense of achievement and makes me proud to be part of such a momentous time in the ship’s life.”
Senior warfare officer Lieutenant Commander Grahame Flint said installing and testing the guns was the first successful trial of HMS Prince of Wales’ “suite of weapons and a significant milestone on the road from being a ‘ship-in-‘build, through a trials platform, to a commissioned warship.
“I know that, after a long time focussing on the ship’s material state, and training in firefighting and damage control, my above water weapons section were very keen to demonstrate their own capabilities.”
With the guns silent, the ship sailed into Invergordon to offload ‘gash’ (rubbish) and take on fresh supplies denuded by chefs serving 4,800 meals every day – that includes 72kgs each of meat and fruit, 200 litres of milk, 400 baguettes, 40 watermelons and 100 litres of soup.
The pantries, fridges and freezers of the carrier are able to hold:
-- 12,000 tins of baked beans (enough to fill 38 bath tubs);
-- 66,000 sausages – stretching for four miles if laid end-to-end (the ship’s company detour them at the rate of over 550ft per day – the height of Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower – exhausting the supply in 37 days);
-- 28,800 rashers of bacon – weigh as much as a Porsche Panamera.
Further brief visits to Invergordon are lined up before HMS Prince of Wales turns south for her future home of Portsmouth next month, followed by formal commissioning before the end of the year.