A Royal Navy F-35B has taken off alongside the UK’s Portsmouth Harbour for the first time after returning from exercise Westlant 19.
The launch marks the first time a fighter jet has launched alongside Portsmouth in almost a decade and marks a significant milestone in the capability of the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers.
The aircraft had remained on the ship as other British F-35s stationed onboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth flew back to their base in RAF Marham. The British aircraft had previously taken off from the HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time earlier this year.
The aircraft was reportedly kept on board the ship to undergo repairs, fixed-wing aircraft are usually launched ahead of an aircraft carriers return to port.
A spokesperson for the Royal Navy told Naval Technology: “Following the completion of successful flying trials in the US, one F-35 Lightning remained embarked on HMS Queen Elizabeth in order for repair and maintenance work to be completed. The aircraft will return to RAF Marham in the near future.”
HMS Queen Elizabeth’s Commander Air, Commander Edward Phillips said: “It was the first launch of an F-35 from the Queen Elizabeth class in UK waters – and the first launch of a jet from alongside in Portsmouth in well over a decade.
“A great effort from the ship, the Naval Base and the Lightning Force. We look forward to welcoming our jets and helicopters back in the New Year.”
HMS Queen Elizabeth can carry around 24 F-35B aircraft, although this number can be increased in surge conditions. The ship is due to begin its first operational deployment in 2021, while its sister ship the HMS Prince of Wales undergoes further sea-trials.
The launch is the latest milestone for the UK’s F-35 fleet, ending a year that saw the fighter aircraft complete their first operational missions alongside Eurofighter Typhoons as part of Operation Shader, the first overseas deployment to RAF Akrotiri and landing and taking off from the HMS Queen Elizabeth.
Last week the Royal Navy’s second aircraft carrier was commissioned during a ceremony attended by the ship’s namesake His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales and the ship’s lady sponsor Her Royal Highness The Duchess of York.
HMS Prince of Wales departed Rosyth in September before completing its first batch of sea trials and then making her first entry into Portsmouth Harbour.