The second of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, HMS Prince of Wales, has gone to sea for the first time.
Eight years since her steel was first cut, Prince of Wales was launched in December 2017, the new 65,000t warship has nearing completion and has been fitted out. the carrier has been handled to the Royal Navy for sea trials. She left her berth at Rosyth for the first time on 19 September.
The huge vessel later passed beneath the three Forth Bridges to reach open water and begin her sea trials. To fit under the iconic structures, the carrier had to lower her main mast. On completion of those exercises she will move to Portsmouth, her home base, and is expected to be commissioned later this year. At present, 600 members of her crew are on board running the numerous tests, and are joined by more than 300 civilian contractors as the Navy works to bring the ship’s systems and powerplant on-line.
With sister ship, Queen Elizabeth working up in the North Atlantic ahead of operational training, the Royal Navy’s two largest ever warships are both at sea simultaneously.
In another first, on 23 September – less than a day after Prince of Wales entered open water – Merlin Mk.II ZH865, piloted by Lieutenant Rob Prior, became the first aircraft to land on the new carrier. The large anti-submarine warfare helicopter completed six take-off and landings.
UPDATE: Briefly, on 26 September, HMS Queen Elizabeth sailed as the the centre piece of a Carrier Task Group while in the North Atlantic, with HMS Dragon, HMS Northumberland, and RFA Tideforce joining the carrier.
Such an assembly of ships in future will form the basis of a Royal Navy strike group, though in this instance the union was short-lived, with Dragon detaching to meet the US Navy for other training duties.