The iconic aft superstructure of the Royal Navy’s next-generation aircraft carrier was on Friday fixed firmly on her flight deck – all but completing the look of HMS Queen Elizabeth. The 753-tonne structure, which serves as the air traffic control centre for the 65,000-tonne warship, was lowered into place following a delicate all-night operation.
The carrier’s aft island stands proud on her flight deck after an all-night precision operation to first lift it, then fix the 753-tonne structure on to the deck.
It means the two iconic pieces of carrier superstructure – the ship is the first to feature the innovative two island design – are now firmly in place; the forward island, a few metres ahead, has been on the flight deck since April.
That is home to the ship’s bridge among other compartments.
The aft structure is home to Flyco – Flying Control, effectively the carrier’s equivalent of an airport control tower.
It’s 32m (104ft) long, 14m (46ft) wide and 31m (101ft 6in) high (that’s seven London buses stacked up). Inside are some 110 compartments, 1,000 pipes stretching for two kilometres and 44km (27 miles – or just longer than a marathon) of cabling.
It took engineers and shipwrights at BAE Systems Scotstoun works – one of half a dozen yards around the UK building sections of the carrier – 90 weeks to complete.
The island was ferried around Scotland on an ocean-going barge last week, before arriving at the Babcock yard in Rosyth to join the rest of the ship in the specially-extended dry dock which is home to the 65,000-tonne carrier.
“Moving this section is a momentous occasion for the carrier programme,” said Ian Booth of the Aircraft Carrier Alliance, which is overseeing the massive project.
“Queen Elizabeth now has a completely unique and distinctive profile and, thanks to the dedication of thousands of workers she will be structurally complete by the end of the year.”
The team from the Aircraft Carrier Alliance invited all the major media players to witness the gigantic structure being lowered into place with millimetric accuracy, billing the occasion as ‘the creation of a carrier’.
“This is a very significant moment in the making of the ship, particularly as she’s an aircraft carrier, because the guys working in the aft island will be operating and controlling all of the aviation activity on this flight deck,” Queen Elizabeth’s Senior Naval Officer Capt Simon Petitt told those present at the lifting ceremony.
“Once we’re fully operational, we will be flying helicopters and jets from all three Services to use the power of the air and the freedom of the ocean to influence those on the land – and that’s the advantage of an aircraft carrier.”
At 10.10am precisely, to the cacophony of apprentices sounding air horns, they saw just that as the island settled on the flight deck, sealing a plaque featuring the insignia of the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and British Army beneath it.
For although she flies the White Ensign, Queen Elizabeth – and her sister Prince of Wales – are national assets, for use by all three Services.
The F35 Lightning II jets which will be her primary punch will be flown by the Fleet Air Arm and RAF. But her deck will also be used by Army Apaches and troop-carrying Chinooks and Merlins ferrying soldiers and Royal Marines into battle.
“HMS Queen Elizabeth will be at the centre of the UK’s defence capability for 50 years,” said Rear Admiral Steve Brunton, Director of Ship Acquisition.
“She will be absolutely unique and, combined with assets across the rest of the UK’s Armed Forces, will provide the country with an unprecedented level of capability, protecting the UK’s interests and providing humanitarian support across the globe.”
That’s a good five years in the future. For now there remains a lot of work to do to complete Queen Elizabeth internally and externally.
Although all sections of the ship have been delivered to Rosyth, not all have been attached – most notably her ‘ski ramp’ which will help the F35s into the air as the same structure did for Harriers on the Invincible class of carriers.
It will be attached later this year.
Compartments inside are being ‘signed off’ (ie completed) every week and work will soon begin to give Queen Elizabeth a Royal Navy livery instead of the ship’s mostly crimson paint scheme at present.
In a few weeks’ time, the team from the Aircraft Carrier Alliance will begin to give the carrier her battleship grey appearance; right now she’s a mish-mash of colours, with the flight deck a very un-RN-like crimson.
The ship will require 1½ million square metres (over 16 million square feet) of paintwork, which is slightly larger than London’s Hyde Park.
Press Release, July 1, 2013; Image: Royal Navy