Britain’s flagship limbers up for 2023 operations
F-35 Lightning jets, Chinook and Merlin helicopters have all joined the Portsmouth-based carrier, which has resumed training after a few weeks’ maintenance in Portsmouth over the winter.
The flagship is gearing up for a series of exercises and operations in European waters this year.
To ready both her ship’s company and the RAF and Fleet Air Arm squadrons which will be operating from her vast flight deck, she sailed from her home port for Scotland to take ammunition on board.
She used the journey up to the munitions jetty at Glen Mallan – rebuilt especially to accommodate the ship and her sister HMS Prince of Wales – to train with RAF Chinooks and Royal Navy Merlins (the latter are permanently assigned to the ship to provide defence against submarines, scan the skies for aerial threats, and rescue downed aircrew in an emergency).
Passing through the Irish Sea, some sailors went ashore on Anglesey to spend a day with RAF Valley, where fast-jet pilots who go on to fly the F-35 stealth fighter are trained; the trainees acknowledged the visit with a fly-past of HMS Queen Elizabeth in their Texan aircraft.
While the carrier was ‘bombing up’ in Loch Long, sailors not involved in the week-long process ‘bomb burst’ around Scotland.
A substantial contingent enjoyed adventurous training from skiing in Glencoe to mountain biking, hillwalking and paddle boarding closer to home.
On a more formal note, a detachment of personnel headed to the carrier’s affiliated city of Edinburgh (the ship is bound with both London and the Scottish capital).
Air engineer Chief Petty Officer George Bowhill and weapons engineer Engineering Technician Neill Wallace were singled out by the flagship’s affiliated Royal Company of Merchants who presented citations (respectively) for their Enterprise and Initiative Awards.
“It was a real privilege and honour to have a tour of the Royal Company of Merchant’s Hall,” George said. “I was proud to have my work recognised and I will always have the wonderful memories of a very special day.”
Four members of the ship’s company visited East Scotland University Royal Naval Unit to support its work with undergraduates from places of higher learning in the area – and explain the role and work of the 65,000-tonne warship.
Some URNU personnel didn’t need any explanation as they sailed from Portsmouth to Glen Mallan with the carrier – for many it was their first experience of life at sea with the Royal Navy.
Acting Midshipman Calvin Sunley, Officer Cadets Anthony Lavell, Patrick Hartley, and Acting Officer Cadets Emily Squire and Cara Browning were involved in firefighting and damage control drills, navigation training and sea boat activity, as well as touring the huge carrier, and observing Merlin and Chinook operations on the flight deck.
“I am very grateful for my time onboard as, by experiencing day to day life and learning about the command processes in each department, it has helped me decide on what type of role I wish to pursue once my university studies are complete,” said acting Midshipman Calvin Sunley.
With the ship’s magazines stocked up, HMS Queen Elizabeth left Loch Long to begin fast-jet training, welcoming air and ground crews of RAF 207 Squadron and the first F-35 activity since November.
Once the jets have honed their carrier operations skills, HMS Queen Elizabeth returns to Portsmouth for a spot of maintenance, followed by further aircrew training all in preparation for operations later in the year.