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Britain’s New Aircraft Carrier

By Ian Brown, Editor - Bits and Pieces, EAA 657159

  • The massive HMS Queen Elizabeth dwarfs the HMS Illustrious.
    The massive HMS Queen Elizabeth dwarfs the HMS Illustrious.

August 12, 2014 - On July 4, a new aircraft carrier was officially christened and later floated to a nearby jetty in the United Kingdom. Named by and in honour of the Queen, the carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is expected to begin sea trials in 2016 and be commissioned in 2017. Original plans called for two carriers, one to support the catapult-launched F-35C and the other to operate with the STOVL F-35B.

Due to rising costs of the catapult launching system, it was decided that both carriers would use the F-35B. You can understand why, with the successful testing of full vertical takeoff and landing capability of the F-35B, the project might have been changed. Here is a video of the first successful test of the F-35B VTOL.

The second carrier will be called HMS Prince Charles, and both ships using the same aircraft makes a lot of sense. The Royal Navy currently operates two carriers, and the plan seems to be that the F-35B Lockheed Martin replacement for the Harrier would modernise the British fleet significantly. The Harrier II was retired in 2010, and both active British carriers have since operated exclusively with helicopters.

It’s interesting to note that if you check out British aircraft carriers on the Internet you will find that the first keel was laid down exactly 100 years ago, only 11 years after the Wright brothers’ first powered flight. Five were sunk in World War II, but 13 were canceled before or during construction. Most of the 53 carriers in the history of the Royal Navy have been scrapped, but several were sold to Canada, France, Australia, India, the Netherlands, Brazil, and Argentina.

At around 60,000 tonnes, the new carriers will have almost three times the displacement of the ships being displaced! The carriers are designated as the Queen Elizabeth class, and each will have 8 acres of “sovereign territory” that can be positioned around the world. You can see a brief video of the naming ceremony and a full 2-hour recording of the same event with pipe bands and lots of information about the construction of the carrier in blocks all over the United Kingdom and final assembly at Rosyth, near Edinburgh.

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