Photo essay: HMS Queen Elizabeth Westlant 19 deployment – Part 2

After departing Halifax on 16th September, HMS Queen Elizabeth, HMS Dragon and RFA Tideforce headed south towards the Florida coast and were joined by HMS Northumberland. They exercised off the eastern seaboard of the US before the aircraft carrier arrived at Naval Station Mayport on 4th October.

Building on daytime trials conducted last year, on 19th September an MV-22 Osprey from HX-21 Squadron, based at NAS Patuxent River, made 22 night landings. The trial evaluated lighting, deck configuration, motion, and handling qualities using landing spots 2, 3 and 4. The V-22 has now effectively been cleared to operate from the QEC carriers and the US Marine Corps aircraft can support the ship 24 hours a day. If an HRAS-equipped auxiliary (Fleet Solid Support ship) is unavailable, the US Ospreys offer another method of delivering bulky cargo such as complete F-35 engines.

With the arrival of HMS Northumberland, the baby UK Carrier Strike Group is fully formed – seen here on 23rd September.

It should be noted that Westlant 19 is not an operational deployment and is just another step in the gradual generation of the UKCSG. The planned RN escort for the carrier on its first operational deployment will be at least double the size, consisting of a submarine, two destroyers, two frigates and two auxiliaries.

Officer of the Watch manoeuvres – playing chicken…

Fine aerial view of RFA Tideforce. Deployed to a low-threat region she is not yet fitted with self-defence weapons and decoys. HMS Northumberland is not carrying any Harpoon missiles.

RFA Tideforce replenishes the carrier in fine weather and azure blue seas. One of the objectives of the trip is to test how well HMS Queen Elizabeth performs in warm weather conditions. (Photo: Emma Richards)

Ships company relax with evening barbecue on the flight deck.

Movie night at sea – “The Greatest Showman” shown on 40ft inflatable screen erected on the flight deck.

HMS Dragon detached from the Westlant group to work with the USS Dwight D Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group for a week. Some personnel were exchanged for a couple of days with the air defence cruiser USS San Jacinto to get experience how the other navy does things.

Pure matelot… seaboat operations, HMS Dragon. 25th Sept.

The mighty US carrier strike group – joined by RN and Dutch warships totalling 1 Super Carrier, 2 x cruisers, 4 destroyers & 1 frigate. USS Dwight D Eisenhower, HNLMS De Ruyter, HMS Dragon, USS San Jacinto, USS Vella Gulf, USS Stout, USS Truxtun and USS James E Williams (Photo: US Navy) 29 Sept.

During the exercises with the USS Eisenhower-led Carrier Strike Group, HMS Dragon gained further experience of air defence operations in a US task group. Type 45 destroyers have already provided air defence for US carriers on live operations in the Gulf and for the French Carrier Charles de Gaulle.

Captain Steve Moorhouse, CO HMS Queen Elizabeth and Commodore Mike Utley COMUKSSG were hosted onboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower by Capt. Kyle Higgins – 27 Sept (Photo: US Navy)

Watching a Super Hornet about to make an arrested landing on Ike.

Merlin on Ike’s busy flight deck.

A second phase of rotary-wing development testing (DT-RW) was completed between 21 September – 2 October. A team from QinetiQ and the Aircraft Test and Evaluation Centre (ATEC), Boscombe Down oversaw an intense programme of 550 deck landings. 471 separate test points were executed by two frontline aircraft, one from 820 Naval Air Squadron (Merlin Mk2) and 845 Naval Air Squadron (Merlin Mk4) respectively.

Merlin Mk4 stowed on the forward flight deck onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth – showing the advantages of folding tail and rotor. (ex-RAF Mk3s were upgraded to Mk4 standard and given folding tails/rotors to equip them for Maritime operations) (Photo: Cdr Bob Bond)

Merlin Mk4s of 845 NAS collect personnel, mail and stores for the UKCSG at Naval Air Station Mayport.

HMS Northumberland and Merlin helicopters on 820 NAS based on HMS Queen Elizabeth exercise with US Navy Los Angeles class submarine. Post-exercise PHOTEX, 2nd October.

The Role 1 primary care team which looks after the ship’s company general medical needs has been supplemented with a Role 2 medical team for the deployment. This includes consultant surgeons, anaesthetists & intensive care nurses and trains for dealing with more complex and serious casualties.

Search & Rescue & Survival Training in very benign conditions. 845 NAS practice on of their secondary roles – rescuing downed aircrew.

HMS Dragon arrived in Charleston, South Carolina in pouring rain on 7 October for visit.

A unique surfer’s view of HMS Queen Elizabeth entering Naval Station Mayport (Photo used with permission of Adam King).

HMS Queen Elizabeth is embarking stores and specialist personnel in Mayport to support F-35 operations which will commence shortly. The 3 UK-owned jets of 17 Squadron based at Edwards Air Force Base in California have flown to US Marine Air Corps Station Beaufort, South Carolina ready to embark on the carrier for the first time. Later this week 3 jets of 617 Squadron will fly from RAF Marham, crossing the Atlantic supported by air-air refuelling to land at Beaufort. The UK aircraft will then join the ship as she heads north and up to 4 more USMC jets will embark at some point.

Although much time will have been spent preparing in the simulator, most of these pilots have not operated from an aircraft carrier before and all will need to attain their carrier pilot qualification. The focus of F-35 flying during Westlant 18 was Development Trails (DT) but the jets will now begin the first Operational Trials phase (OT-1) learning to operate and fight the aircraft in a naval environment. In mid-November there will be a break from flying as the ship heads to Annapolis for a major diplomatic visit.