Posted on February 12, 2019
A century ago the UK started work on the world’s first purpose-built aircraft carrier.
Soon the first jets will fly off the massive deck of her latest successor – the giant HMS Queen Elizabeth. Along with her sister ship, HMS Prince of Wales, they’re the largest warships ever to be built for the Royal Navy. The navy and the government believe they’re a statement of global ambition and intent. But there are critics who wonder whether the UK has made a huge mistake.
Britain’s two new aircraft carriers are leviathans and an extraordinary feat of British engineering. Standing on board, it’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer scale. Inside the labyrinth of passageways – wider and more spacious than those on the older US Nimitz-class carriers – you’ll find a chapel, a hospital and five galleys to feed the 700-plus crew. That figure rises to 1,600 when you add the flight crews, engineers and Royal Marines who might also be on board. Even fully crewed there’s still plenty of room. The generously sized sleeping cabins are a far cry from the cramped conditions of most warships.
There are five gyms to burn off the calories, though crew members can clock up 20,000 steps – as far as eight miles (13km) – during their average working day. The 65,000-tonne HMS Queen Elizabeth is longer than the Houses of Parliament and, from keel to the top of the highest mast, taller than London’s Nelson’s Column. You could fit three football pitches on her massive flight deck.
She has been built to carry up to 36 new F-35 stealth jets, as well as helicopters. But in reality she’ll routinely sail with fewer than half that number. The first jets will fly off her deck in flight trials taking place off the east coast of the US this autumn. And she’ll sail on her first “operational deployment” in 2021.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is like a small town. Her engines could provide enough power to run tens of thousands of homes. The ship, and her sister carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, may have been inspired by US Navy equivalents, but the design is uniquely British.