Britain has taken a big step towards a two-strike carrier Navy with the debut of the F-35 Lightning aboard HMS Prince of Wales.
The stealth fighter touched down for the first time on the deck of the second of Britain’s new aircraft carriers on a calm, clear day off the south coast of England.
HMS Prince of Wales manoeuvered into position to accept the aircraft which touched down on the sprawling flight deck with precision amid an air of excitement from the ship’s company.
“It was a real honour to be the first pilot to land the F-35B on HMS Prince of Wales,” said RAF Squadron Leader Will of 207 Squadron from Marham.
“With all the training that we have previously undertaken with HMS Queen Elizabeth we are now looking forward to using that experience and knowledge as we work with HMS Prince of Wales as she moves towards her full operational capability.”
Shortly after the first landing, the first take-off: Lieutenant Commander Ben, also from 207 Squadron – the joint RAF-Fleet Air Arm formation dedicated to teaching fast jet pilots how to fly and operate the stealth fighter – powered along the deck and leapt skywards courtesy of the carrier’s iconic ski ramp, blazing the trail for thousands of similar launches over the next half century.
The jet and ship are carrying out Sea Acceptance Trials which test the ship’s ability to not only receive and launch the jets but also maintain near-continuous air operations.
The stealth fighter shared the deck with three Army Air Corps Apaches, embarked before Prince of Wales departed Portsmouth at the weekend.
Overseeing both maiden landing and take-off was Captain Darren Houston, the Portsmouth-based warship’s Commanding Officer, who hailed “a significant milestone in the Royal Navy’s re-birth of carrier strike group operations.
“It is a tangible reflection of the enormous collective effort from the aircraft carrier enterprise to deliver the Royal Navy’s second aircraft carrier. I am particularly proud of the contribution made by my ship’s company in developing this world-leading, sovereign capability and we look forward in earnest to rapidly growing our experience operating the F-35B through further trials and training later this year.”
The news was passed on to Commodore Steve Moorhouse, commanding the UK’s carrier strike group from on board HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Mediterranean.
He said that the “strategic significance” of the F-35 operating from Prince of Wales as well as the flagship was “profound”.
He continued: “Building one aircraft carrier is a sign of national ambition. But building two – and operating them simultaneously – is a sign of serious national intent.
“It means Britain has a continuous carrier strike capability, with one vessel always ready to respond to global events at short notice. Few other navies can do that. Britain is back in the front rank of maritime powers.”
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