Royal Navy considers two carriers essential for F-35 trials

The Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales is scheduled to leave its dry dock next summer and begin sea trials in mid-2019. Source: Tim Ripley

Two Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers are needed to keep the UK flight trials of the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II combat aircraft on schedule to allow the Royal Navy (RN) to declare its full carrier strike capability, according to the senior officer of the second in the class.

Speaking ahead of the formal naming ceremony for the future HMS Prince of Wales on 8 September, Captain Ian Groom said the new carrier needed to be delivered to the navy during 2019 to allow the flight trails to continue while Queen Elizabeth is undertaking a scheduled period of certification inspections in dry dock.

“There is a further set of fixed-wing flying trials needed and HMS Prince of Wales has to carry them out,” he told Jane’s on 31 August. “HMS Queen Elizabeth’s re-certification period in 2019 means we need HMS Prince of Wales then.”

The F-35 Lightning making its first flypast over its future home at RAF Marham. Picture: Ian Burt

Senior naval sources told Jane’s they expected the entry into service of Prince of Wales to be more straightforward than for its sister ship. It does not require many of the first-of-class trials that are extending Queen Elizabeth’s entry into service. So after Prince of Wales is handed over, it will only require a short period of acceptance trials and then its crew will begin work-up training to allow it to reach an initial operating capability in 2020.

Martin Douglass, engineering director of the Aircraft Carrier Alliance (ACA) industrial consortium, which is building the two new 65,000-tonne carriers for the RN, told Jane’s on 31 August that they are currently “on track” to float Prince of Wales out of its dry dock next summer and begin sea trials in mid-2019.

He said the ACA was already applying lessons from the first-of-class build process and sea trials to the second carrier. This includes making improvements to the process of preparing its heat-resistant flight deck coverings and installing an improved F-35 landing light systems earlier in the build process, he said.


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