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Second UK aircraft carrier embarks F-35Bs, Army Apaches for first time

F-35B on HMS Prince of Wales
First F-35B on the flight deck of HMS Prince of Wales. Photo: Royal Navy

The Royal Navy’s second Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier is lining up ‘firsts’ during its Spring training deployment and has embarked F-35B stealth fighter jets and army Apache attack helicopters during the work up.

The first short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) stealth fighter touched down on the deck of HMS Prince of Wales earlier this week off the south coast of England.

“It was a real honor 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.”

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.

A British Army Apache on the flight deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth

The helicopter trio hails from the Army Air Corps’ dedicated maritime unit 656 Squadron, 4 Regiment AAC, and are supported by 100 personnel from Wattisham Airfield in Suffolk.

The training with Prince of Wales will include qualifying new pilots in the art of deck landings and take offs, but also ensure that ground crew from both the Army Air Corps and Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers can perform their aircraft handling and maintenance roles at sea.

In addition to the F-35B and the Apaches, the carrier also embarks anti-submarine/troop-carrying Merlins and anti-ship Wildcat maritime attack helicopters.

The lead ship in the class, HMS Queen Elizabeth, already completed all of these milestones and is currently on her maiden deployment, leading an international carrier strike group on a deployment to South China Sea and back.