Another line was written in the history books today as the largest warship ever built for the Royal Navy set sail for the first time. Under the guidance of a flotilla of super tugs, the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth set out from Rosyth, Scotland on her first six-week sea trial off the northeast coast of Scotland to carry out initial tests of the future flagship's fundamental systems.
Today's departure marks a major milestone for the Queen Elizabeth and her sister ship HMS Prince of Wales, which is currently being fitted out. Each carrier is 280 m (920 ft) long, 70 m (230 ft) abeam, has a draught of 11 m (36 ft) with a flight deck big enough for three soccer fields and can manage a top speed of 25 knots (46 km/h, 29 mph). Though larger than the previous Invincible class carriers, they carry a smaller crew thanks to their heavily automated systems and networked design.
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Today's trials aren't that much of a change for the approximately 700 crew that make up the present complement of HMS Queen Elizabeth. They have been living aboard ship for the past two weeks while carrying out watches and dry runs as if the carrier was already at sea. According to the Ministry of Defence (MoD), after completing the initial trials that will evaluate the carrier's speed, maneuverability, weapons, power and propulsion, the ship will return to Rosyth for testing and maintenance before heading south to her homeport at Portsmouth for formal transfer to the Navy later this year.
Though the Queen Elizabeth's main weapon during her 50 years of service will be an air arm of at least a dozen F-35B Lightning II fighter aircraft, the first years of service will use only helicopters until the fixed-wing planes and their pilots are ready for deployment. When the air crews and Royal Marines are taken aboard, the ship's complement will swell to 1,600.
"This is a hugely significant moment for the Royal Navy, for all our Armed Forces and for our island nation," says Admiral Sir Philip Jones First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff. "Once in service HMS Queen Elizabeth will be the largest aircraft carrier in the world outside the United States, and the first designed from the outset to operate a fifth generation aircraft.
"Already this ship represents the best of the UK's industrial and engineering expertise, and once in service she will symbolize our military power and authority in the world for decades to come. There is still much work to do between now and then, but be in no doubt: a new era of British maritime power is about to begin."
The computer simulation video below from the Aircraft Carrier Alliance shows how HMS Queen put to sea.