HMS Queen Elizabeth sails from Portsmouth today for around 6-8 weeks. During this voyage, she will conduct Operational Sea Training and head into the Eastern Atlantic to commence, what will be the first of many flying trials, beginning with the Merlin helicopter.
Since commissioning on 7th December, the ship has been alongside conducting further engineering work and the minor leak on the stern seals that was the cause of such media hysteria before Christmas has been repaired. The Aircraft Carrier Alliance and their contractors are expected to continue snagging and final work on the ship for up to 6 months beyond the commissioning date.
While still in Portsmouth, a Merlin Mk2, ‘Dolphin 14’ from 820 Naval Air Squadron landed on board for two days in mid-January to conduct Sea Acceptance Trials (Air) which tested that the systems on the flight deck and in the hangar designed to support embarked were working correctly. The aircraft was connected to electrical supplies and the telebrief system which allows non-wireless communication with the ship before take off. Refuelling arrangements were also tested and firefighting and rescue crews took the opportunity to rehearse emergency drills, damage control and fuel spillage procedures with a real aircraft. Taken below the Merlin was lashed down in the mid-section of the hangar with the fire-curtains lowered. This completion of this short trial gives confidence that the ship is ready and safe to operate aircraft at sea.
A specialist team from FOST has been on board for some time starting to compile the unique Queen Elizabeth class training syllabus for a new class of ship that is very much larger than anything else there’s been in the fleet for a long time. For the first 2 weeks, the ship is likely to operate in the Western Approaches as the FOST staff focus on ensuring the ship’s company is fully competent in safety and survival procedures. Fire, flood, casualty and evacuation exercises are likely to be the main focus, the warfare elements that usually comprise a large part of a FOST period will be conducted at a later date. Further Sea training periods are scheduled for next year and beyond as more aircraft are embarked and the ship becomes more ‘warlike’, before achieving initial operating capability in 2020.
With sea training completed, the focus will be on conducting First of Class Rotary Wing (FOCRW) trials. QinetiQ and military test pilots from the Rotary Wing Test and Evaluation Squadron (RWTES) based at MoD Boscombe Down, will fly Merlins out to the ship. The ship and the aircraft are fitted with sensors and instruments to determine the sea states, roll, pitch and wind limits within which it is safe for the three Merlin variants to operate from the Queen Elizabeth class. Data from these repetitive trials will be used to compile the Ship Helicopter Operating Limitations (SHOL) clearances for the Merlin. Every aircraft type has to be tested and certified for each class of ship it may fly from, to ensure the limits of safe operation are understood. In time, the QEC will be required to conduct trials with many other types including Wildcat, Chinook, Apache and the F-35B Lightning II. The Eastern Atlantic and the Bay of Biscay should provide a variety of testing weather conditions for the flying and test the ship in higher sea states than have been experienced so far. This round of trials is likely to only involve 2 or 3 Merlin aircraft, a full Squadron (820 NAS) will embark for the first time in mid-2018.
Although not yet confirmed, HMS Queen Elizabeth is expected to visit Gibraltar for fuel, stores and a brief rest period at some point during the trials period. The ships programme remains fluid and the timing of visit depends on the progress of the flight trials but the ship can probably be expected sometime in late February or early March. The Rock is a vital staging point and logistical support hub with connections to the Royal Navy going back centuries. QE can expect a big welcome in Gibraltar and will provide an iconic photo opportunity. The visit will also be a helpful reminder to the Spanish they would do better to improve relations with post-Brexit Britain, instead of making repeated futile incursions into the waters of the territory. There are considerable numbers of junior sailors for whom QE is their first ship, and this will be their first foreign run-ashore. (Invergordon does not count) Few sailors have a bad word to say about the Rock and it’s sure to be memorable for everyone. Expect the QEC to be regular visitors to the base for many decades to come.
- HMS Queen Elizabeth begins preparations for rotary wing trials (Naval Technology)
- HMS Queen Elizabeth – a large and convenient media target (Save the Royal Navy)
- The cycle of Spanish incursions into Gibraltar waters (Save the Royal Navy – 2015)
from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/hms-queen-elizabeth-sails-for-training-flight-trials-and-gibraltar/