Pride of Portsmouth, HMS Queen Elizabeth, is set to leave port to start the second phase of her trials.
The super aircraft carrier will be setting sail at 3.00pm tomorrow afternoon – weather dependent – with the main Harbour channel closed to all other shipping from 2.30pm.
The first phase of trials focused on engines, steering, and auxiliary machinery and were completed very successfully.
Part 2 trials will have a greater focus on mission systems, radars, communications, and electronics.
The navigable channel dredged for the carrier is 100 metres wide. The ship’s beam (width) at the waterline is 40 metres.
The width of the flight deck is 70 metres and with the islands offset 25 metres to starboard, they actually sit over the water.
The most critical part of the departure will be as the ship passes through the harbour entrance between the Round Tower and Fort Blockhouse (on the Gosport side) – just 210 metres across.
To visually ensure that the ship remains within the channel, three pairs of navigation lights – Goddard’s Beacons, named after the bridge simulator manager – have been positioned at the northern end of the harbour.
These beacons take into account the offset of the bridge; the Captain and Navigator will use these to judge where the ship lies in relation to the centre of the channel and whether the ship is drifting to one side or the other. The bridge should be aligned with the middle pair of beacons.
The wind limit is 15kts. The carriers will normally enter and depart the harbour around the time of high water and when the strength of the tidal steam in the harbour entrance is slack (at the minimum strength).
The decision to leave harbour will take into account the wind speed and direction, the tidal conditions, the sea state, and the range of visibility – the beacons need to be visible from the bridge.
Six tugs will be escorting the ship out of harbour to assist as required and manoeuvre the ship out of her berth in the naval base, starting at 1.15pm.
At this very early stage, QE is still more ship than warship, she has not yet even been fitted with her self-defence decoys, close in weapons systems (CIWS) and has no armament besides light machine guns.
Even when QE is a commissioned warship there will be a long process to fully train the ship’s company (pass Operational Sea Training), conduct flight trials and work up the air group before she can declare initial operating capability in 2020.
Full operating capability (Carrier Strike) will not be achieved until 2023.
Next year 820 Naval Air Squadron will be the first operational squadron to embark aboard QE. Their Merlin Mk2s will practice their primary role of anti-submarine warfare, protecting the carrier from the underwater threat.
In the last quarter of 2018 the first British F-35B Lightning will land on QE off the eastern coast of the United States. An 8-week flight testing period will be another landmark on the long road to restoring UK carrier capability.