Elizabeth, you’re a big ship now

Guest blogger
ACA Engineering Director

David is employed by BAE Systems, and is responsible for all the engineering work being carried out on the QE Class programme. Previously, he was design manager for HMS Ocean, Albion and Bulwark, and was chief engineer on the Type 45 Destroyer programme

Well now that the Olympics are over (and congratulations to Team GB on their successes and the entertainment they have provided us) I think we, the Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carrier Project, can justifiably argue that we are now the biggest engineering project in the Country. Certainly it feels that way when you look at the giant ship taking shape in the build dock at Rosyth. Visibly a lot has changed since the start of Dock Cycle B in June. Was it only three months ago that the dock was briefly empty of any parts of the ship during the docking sequence of Lower Block 02 and Super Block 03? That seems a long while ago now.

The transition from being a large dock with two large unconnected structures within it to becoming a very large ship in a dry dock really happened while I took some summer leave. The visual effect of skidding Super Block 03 up to Lower Block 02, and particularly craning the lower bow section of Block 01 into the dock, is stunning. I returned from leave to see what is clearly recognisable as a very large ship, and as the upper sections of Centre Block 02 are progressively loaded out on top of Lower Block 02 it just gets bigger and bigger. You can see time-lapse video of the skidding process here.

This stitched image, showing the full length of the Rosyth assembly dock, shows how the ship is now taking shape.

The skidding of the 12000 tonne Super Block 03 some 90 metres along the dock bottom to butt up to Lower Block 02 was a considerable feat of engineering that I was sorry to have missed. The whole operation went very well and was accomplished in a shorter time than many of us had expected. I am told that the alignment achieved between the centreline of the two blocks was about 1mm. I don’t think I was very popular when I suggested the skidding should be reversed and tried again to get it spot on!

The centreline alignment between the two large blocks was only 1mm out after they had been skidded together

Seriously, the fit-up between all the blocks that have been erected thus far has been fabulous, especially when you consider that the individual blocks have been constructed in six different shipyards around the country, and the design engineering carried out in five locations and using two different CAD tools. A great deal of effort had gone into ensuring that the alignment would be good, so it is no surprise but it is very satisfying to see it come to fruition.

Attention is now turning to the next big Block Transportation of Lower Block 04 from Govan, on the River Clyde, to Rosyth on the Forth. As well as being the largest block transported this is also probably the most awkward, as the shape of it, including the after cut up, means that it will naturally float with a very significant trim by the stern. This will be corrected by the use of solid and liquid ballast and the construction of a buoyancy tank within the support structure at the aft end of the block.

There have been a steady stream of visitors of varying degrees of importance to Rosyth wanting to look at the evolving ship and to be taken for a tour around it. The visitors are nearly all surprised by the scale of the ship and the extent of progress from the outside, but it is really once they have been taken for a tour inside the ship that they become most impressed. Standing with a visitor in one of the Auxiliary Machinery Spaces the other day, the visitor looked at the machinery, the runs of piping, the ventilation trunking and the cabling and said “but this compartment is finished!” and with a bit of tidying up it is; moreover, there are several other spaces at a similar level of completion.

Away from Rosyth the systems that will allow the ship to come alive are continuing to be developed. At the shore test facility at Cowes on the Isle of Wight the prototype pole mast has been hoisted back into position, now with a complete set of antenna fitted and system functional integration of these antenna with the other Mission Systems is progressing together with experiments on electro-magnetic and mutual interference. I look forward to seeing that when next I visit Cowes.

There will be a high degree of automation in the control of the aircraft carriers’ machinery and systems provided by the Integrated Platform Management System (IPMS). which is being developed by L3 Communications. This is a software-based system that combines machinery and equipment control and surveillance with electrical power management and damage surveillance and control. Using a number of distributed processors around the ship connected by the its Local Area Network, the IPMS supports the control and monitoring of machinery and equipment to be conducted from a number of workstations located throughout the ship in the ship control centre, the bridge, the operations room and also the damage control section bases. The extent of control possible from each workstation depends on the clearance of the individual user rather than the location of the workstation. This ensures that there is a common view of data right across the ship, which is particularly important in a damage control situation.
Software integration of the IPMS is taking place at the shore integration facility (SIF) located near Filton in Bristol where it is close to the machinery suppliers, the MoD customer and parts of the QEC project team.

The pole mast assembly for QE is under test at Cowes

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the SIF and seeing the final stages of factory acceptance tests taking place on the first drop of software, which will shortly be delivered to the ship and installed on the ship’s hardware. The SIF is populated with hardware which is destined for the second ship and a number of off the shelf computers which represent the workstations fitted on the ship. They are located in the SIF in a manner that replicates the control centre on board ship. While at the SIF I was able to see the Human Computer Interface through which control and monitoring will be carried out and had a demonstration of the damage surveillance and control software. The latter provides a degree of utility that is far advanced from the traditional use of incident state boards marked up with chinagraph pencils.

Delivery of this first drop of software to the ship is a significant event, achieved on the planned date, which is a credit to all those who have worked on the IPMS and will play a significant part in bringing the ship to life over the coming months.