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Start of a momentous year for Carrier project

Looking back on 2013, the Aircraft Carrier Alliance (ACA) achieved a great deal in the assembly of HMS Queen Elizabeth - the first of the two new aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy.   

At the end of 2012, the two major sections of the hull had been skidded into alignment within the build dock at Rosyth.   Since that time the remaining upper and sponson blocks have been assembled onto the hull, the two islands have been shipped and welded into position, the take off ramp has been fitted, and the Long Range Radar assembled on the top of the mast of the forward island.  

At the end of January 2014, the hull is now structurally complete and the scale of this iconic ship is clear for all to see.  Since the manufacturing phase contract was let to the ACA in the middle of 2008 and looking back over the construction and assembly process, it is pleasing to say that all the major evolutions have happened at or before the programmed date. However, as everyone tells us, assembling the hull is the easy bit, commissioning and setting it all to work and proving the design is still largely ahead of us.  


Queen Elizabeth in drydock, with the bow section of Prince of Wales alongside

2014 is going to be an interesting and historic year for the project, working towards the naming ceremony for HMS Queen Elizabeth in the summer, followed by flooding up the dock, floating the ship out and mooring her within the non-tidal basin at Rosyth for the next phase of the work.  This will be the point where the ship goes from being a building site to becoming a real floating ship.   

Once berthed in the non-tidal basin,  the ship’s High Voltage system will go live, initially from a shore supply, with preparations taking place to start the ship’s generators and then onwards to propulsion trials.  Once HMS Queen Elizabeth has vacated the dry dock there will be just a few weeks to rearrange the dock blocks before the first sections of the HMS Prince of Wales arrive in Rosyth, commencing the assembly sequence for the second ship.  


The full size of Queen Elizabeth is now apparent

Having a key event such as the naming ceremony and flood up planned for the year really focusses the mind, and a detailed plan of work requiring completion in advance of these evolutions is being worked to.

The fuel, aviation fuel, fresh water and ballast water tanks together with their associated cofferdams and sea chests are all being completed, painted and signed off.  The installation of the shafts and the brake blades that will allow the shafts to be turned at up to full speed and up to 50% full power is starting.  The underwater hull is being shot blasted and painted with anti-fouling paint which is intended to last until the ship’s first planned docking over 5 years away.  Painting of the topsides is underway within the constraints of the great Scottish weather!  


Waiting for launch: inside on of Queen Elizabeth’s galleys.

On the upper deck, the catwalks around the edge of the flight deck are being prepared and will shortly be painted with a heat resistant paint scheme.  This will survive the thermal effects of the exhaust of an F35 jet while hovering on the approach to a vertical landing.  This work also entails application of the thermal metal spray coating to the edges of the flight deck.  This coating system will later be applied across the whole flight deck.   

The aircraft lift platforms are being prepared for installation.  As might be expected there are a fair number of challenges in the installation and alignment of these massive lifts, but a clear plan now exists to install both lift platforms at the beginning of April.   

Meanwhile recognising that access to the ship and craneage is much easier while the ship is in the dry dock, served by the Goliath crane, than when afloat in the non-tidal basin, the chance is being taken to install anything that might be difficult to do later.  This includes the platform at the stern for the SPN 41 Precision Approach Radar, the seating’s for the Glide Path Cameras and some CCTV cameras.   It looks like 2014 is going to be another busy but very interesting year.

Readers' comments (16)

  • A navalised Typhoon or, if not possible, the already carrier capable Rafale seems to be necessary to justify a carrier of this size.

    While Im sure the QE is a very capable ship surely the point of its size is to allow catapult & arrestor wires to be fitted for more capable aircraft. If we are indeed locked into buying a STOVL craft then I see little reason for such a large platform.

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  • Landings will not all be vertical - one of the UK innovations is the development of a "rolling vertical landing" which will enable the aircraft to return to the ship without jettisoning weapons or fuel either when it is carrying a heavy load or when it is operating in a very hot climate. Hence I think there's still a glide path.

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  • Let's not forget we entered into an agreement with the French to 'share' aircraft carriers. Leaving aside what that means, the French fly Rafales, which need a glide path. Until the F35s arrive, it seems we will be giving the carriers to the French for a while. Nice for them.

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  • @Anthony
    With the benefit of hindsight, the US should probably have binned the idea of a STOVL F-35, and made two planes, a new Phantom (ie twin engined naval aircraft that could also be used on land) and an AV-8C Super Harrier for the US Marines. It would have been cheaper and avoided some of the expensive compromises that have been required to accommodate the STOVL variant. The Super Harrier would not have been as good as a F-35, but it would have been good enough for close support of troops. We would have then had to make a decision about whether we wanted a full-fat F-35 or an 80% solution in the form of the Super Harrier.

    The FAA had been a paper tiger ever since the withdrawal of the Sea Harrier, exacerbated by the requirement to send GR9s to Afghanistan which sucked up most of the deployable capability. Lusty went to the Far East with just 4 GR9s on board, Gordon Brown's need for Afghan-inspired funding cuts meant that by 2009 the seaborne force was little more than a seedcorn capability waiting for the F-35. Google "Withdrawing Harrier - taking the right decision, no matter how wrong it felt" for an MoD civil servant's view on the withdrawal decision.

    Don't forget that the F-35C can't use half the US carriers, as they're STOVL-only, and it's too heavy for the de Gaulle. So the F-35B is much more interoperable - and the USMC is probably closer to us in philosophy.

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  • @Anonymous/Nathan
    A Sea Typhoon is probably doable - but would need vast amount of money spending on development costs across a relatively small number of airframes. Money we don't have. Taranis is still a work in progress - they've achieved a lot but there's still a lot of technical and legal issues to sort out. It's not very relevant to the first generation of aircraft on the QEs. And of course it would need catapults on the QE - which would be very awkward to do, on published figures it would almost be cheaper to just build a new carrier.

    Don't forget that HMG gets 50-odd F-35 for free thanks to our generous workshare package.

    @J Eyre
    Big carriers carry more aircraft and can operate them more efficiently. You can debate the original requirement for 144 sorties/day, but once you accept that then two biggish carriers deliver that requirement more efficiently and cheaply than more smaller ships.

    @Murray Sinclair
    We won't be giving the carriers to the French. We are already flying F-35s, and the first full squadron should work up just as the QE completes its basic sea trials. It's almost like someone had put some thought into coordinating the two.

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  • The best aircraft for STOBAR ops would be the Sea Gripen. By happy co-incidence, lots of UK content!

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