Britain’s newest and most powerful aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, is on its way to America to train with F-35 jets for the first time.
The British Royal Navy’s £3.5 billion ($4.5 billion) aircraft carrier left the UK for America on Aug. 18, 2018, to start September 2018 training with F-35B jets based at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, the Royal Navy wrote on its official website.
Crowds turned out to wish the carrier well on its 3,400-mile trip from Portsmouth, a city on England’s south coast.
The deployment is significant because it will mark the first fighter jet landing on a British aircraft carrier in eight years.
Shortly after leaving, the crew carried out their first relief effort: two baby pigeons were found on board, which had to be fed porridge through a syringe and returned to land in a helicopter, the Royal Navy said.
“While our focus for the deployment is getting the new jets onboard for the first time, we are also prepared to conduct humanitarian relief, should we be called upon to do so. We just didn’t think that would be quite so soon,” Lieutenant Commander Lindsey Waudby said.
The first landing on the HMS Queen Elizabeth will happen at the end of September 2018, according to the Portsmouth News. The jets are expected to perform 500 take-offs and landings over an 11-week period, the Royal Navy said.
The F-35B is designed to operate from short-field bases — like on the Queen Elizabeth — and has vertical landing ability.
It can also take off and land conventionally from longer runways at major bases.
Watch one landing here:
The jets will be flown by four F-35B pilots from the Integrated Test Force, a unit that includes British and American pilots.
On this mission, three British pilots — a Royal Navy Commander, a Squadron Leader from the Royal Air Force, and one civilian test pilot — will be joined by a Major from the US Marine Corps, UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “As the US’s biggest partner in the F-35 programme, we jointly own test jets which are on track to fly off the deck of our new aircraft carrier later this year.”
He said the training will “strengthen our special relationship with US forces.”
HMS Queen Elizabeth is the third largest aircraft carrier in the world at 280 meters long and a weight of 65,000 tonnes. In total, there will be about 1,500 people on board, the Portsmouth News reported.
It is expected to be on active duty in 2021.
Before leaving for America the carrier was in Portsmouth, running helicopter tests using Chinook Mk 5 helicopters and Merlin Mk 2s:
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