F-35B stealth fighter jets from the Royal Air Force’s 617 ‘Dambuster’ squadron landed on the flight deck of the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time, marking the latest milestone towards the reestablishment UK’s carrier strike group capability.
Pilots, engineers, cyberspace and mission support staff from 617 Squadron, the UK’s operational strike squadron, embarked the carrier over the weekend during a quick stop in Portsmouth for supplies before the aircraft themselves landed on board on Tuesday afternoon.
It marks the first time 617 Squadron has fully joined HMS Queen Elizabeth as the UK prepares to deploy the next generation squadron of fighter aircraft to operate from the sea.
The F-35 jets that landed on board will be the same aircraft that will sail next year with the ship for her maiden global carrier strike group 21 deployment.
“We are excited to be on board the carrier and we have been training hard to be here. This is the first time the ship’s operational squadron has embarked and worked together,” Commander Mark Sparrow, the commanding officer of 617 Squadron, said.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is set to enter a period of flying having just completed four weeks of basic sea training.
The aim is to demonstrate that the jets can successfully defend the aircraft carrier by delivering combat air patrols – launching from the ship to conduct strike missions against a target – and being ready to take off at short notice.
After the initial qualification period, 617 Squadron will test their ability to work with Portsmouth-based HMS Queen Elizabeth and Merlin helicopters of Culdrose-based 820 Naval Air Squadron by conducting a number of training missions.
This is all in preparation for their second embarkation later in the year when the squadron will join the carrier and her task group for a large multinational training exercise with US, European and NATO partners.
The first of two new QE-class aircraft carriers is scheduled to return to Portsmouth later this month.