Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers

It's only natural that a project of the Queen Elizabeth Class carriers' scale would attract the kind of attention that it has. It means that it’s already doing part of the job it was commissioned to do: to be a conspicuous presence – a key feature of being a deterrent. With a lifespan of 50 years, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales will continue to have an impact around the world as they safeguard the UK's interests well into the future.

A country dependent on the sea

Much has been said about the HMS Queen Elizabeth. But some key facts get lost in the noise. Like the reality that the UK is an island nation – something that affects the livelihood of every single person living in Britain. And that, despite all the advances in technology and air travel, 95% of Britain’s economic activity depends on the oceans.

To question why the UK needs an aircraft carrier is to ignore the realities of being a significant player on the global stage with peacetime, wartime and humanitarian responsibilities. It’s to disregard the power that a statement of intent makes, the engineering achievements of modern day British shipbuilders – and the long-term benefit that comes with protecting the waters that Britain depends on for its prosperity, resources and raw materials. 

When all is said and done, how does a country show it is serious about its plans and ambitions? This is the driving question behind any aircraft carrier. Because an aircraft carrier backs up the words of its leaders with an indisputable presence – and, when necessary, action.

To deter you must have a credible force.

Captain Simon Petitt, former Senior Naval Officer of HMS Queen Elizabeth.

Commanding Officer Jerry Kyd

Rank: Captain

Commodore Kyd joined the Royal Navy in 1985. He became the first Commanding Officer of HMS Queen Elizabeth on the 24th May 2016.

Although Captain Kyd remains a substantive Commodore, he will follow historical custom and routinely wear the rank of Captain Royal Navy in his role as Commanding Officer of HMS Queen Elizabeth.


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The making of an icon

Iconic projects aren’t always immediately appreciated. The Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, Sydney Opera House. Like the HMS Queen Elizabeth, they’ve all had to overcome scrutiny and scepticism. And like the HMS Queen Elizabeth, the vision behind them was an ambitious one. 

An icon in numbers - what does it take to build the largest British warship ever built? Equipment and manpower on an undisputed scale. 

Like the special crane, 68 metres tall and 120 metres across, that was commissioned just for this project. Or the six UK shipyards involved, not just one – because no single yard was large enough to build the ship in its entirety. And over 250,000km of electrical cable and 8,000km of fibreoptic cable. 

From a manpower perspective, there are 3,000 people in Rosyth, with another 8,000 people working at sites around the country. Then there’s the wider supply chain network, involving hundreds of companies around the UK. In short, the jobs created and the effort going into this new British icon are unprecedented for a single project in the 21st century.

It’s a testament to the capability of UK manufacturing – proving that remarkable engineering feats run in Britain’s blood. 

A new icon is created


How does one grasp a concept they’ve never experienced? This is the problem with anything of enormous scale – whether it’s an aircraft carrier or the distance to the sun. To help, we’ve compared the size of the HMS Queen Elizabeth against two well known landmarks. 

How big is the new carrier?


At 280m, the HMS Queen Elizabeth is longer than the Houses of Parliament (265m). And its length is greater than the height of the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth (170m).

Designed for seamless living and working

Unusually for a project like this, the HMS Queen Elizabeth is being built by an alliance between Babcock, Thales, BAE Systems and the Ministry of Defence. 

It allows the carrier to benefit from the collective knowledge of people at the industry’s forefront. It also means the Royal Navy is closely involved in the design process. 

As Captain Petitt says, “You wouldn’t build a house without speaking to the builder.” 

After all, the carrier has to function as home, workplace and leisure hub for all three armed forces. 

So making the space as efficient and ergonomic as possible is critical to the success of the project. 

Evidence of the thought that went into the design abounds. But nowhere is it more evident than in the integration of a pilot’s living and working needs.

Aircraft Controller

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from the heart


British sailors aboard US super-carrier Harry S Truman have been branded "awesome" by their US counterparts. The team joined the Truman as she sailed to relieve the USS Nimitz on Operation Enduring Freedom, the American codename for the mission in Afghanistan. This exercise was future training to pave the way for the Queen Elizabeth and promotes a Navy objective to foster International Partnerships.

anglo-french relations

training on FS Charles de gaulle

Four Royal Navy officers completed a three month stint with France's carrier task force on her key winter deployment. The quartet are attached to the French Navy as part of a double-pronged effort by the Royal Navy to pave the way for the UK's next generation aircraft carriers, which are half as big again as France's flagship.

A prestigious history. An ambitious future

The history of combining naval might with airborne capability is long and fascinating. From the earliest recorded instance in 1806, where the Royal Navy used kites deployed from HMS Pallas to spread anti Napoleonic leaflets over France, the journey to the modern day aircraft carrier is one where necessity and ingenuity push the boundaries of technology. 

At the same time, the name HMS Queen Elizabeth carries a distinguished heritage. The current ship is only the second one to bear that moniker. Its predecessor fought many well known campaigns. But the highlight of her career came in 1918 when Admiral Beatty accepted the German fleet’s surrender on board the ship. At the time, she was docked in Rosyth – just half a mile from where the new HMS Queen Elizabeth is currently being built. A fitting way to connect the glory of the past with the hope for the future.

The most exciting moment was joining the project, standing in front of my 11 sailors, looking them in the eye and hearing them go ‘what do we do now, sir?’ because it truly was a blank sheet. We arrived and the first thing we had to do was order the paper.”

Captain Simon Petitt.
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Evolution of Carriers1806

The Royal Navy’s HMS Pallas deploys kites to spread anti Napoleonic leaflets over France.

Evolution of Carriers1849

The Austrian ship, Vulcano, launched small Montgolfiere hot air balloons with the intention of dropping bombs on Venice.

Evolution of Carriers1911

The French Navy’s ship, Foudre, is the first seaplane carrier, carrying seaplanes under hangars on the main deck.

Evolution of Carriers1913

The Royal Navy’s, HMS Hermes, was among the first seaplane carriers. She was sunk by a German sub in 1914.

Evolution of Carriers1914

The first modern aircraft carrier, HMS Ark Royal was converted from a merchant ship. She served in the Dardanelles campaign and throughout WWI.

HMS Queen Elizabeth1915

Only one previous ship bore the name HMS Queen Elizabeth. She fought in the Dardanelles and supported the Galipoli campaign.

Modern Carriers1917

Squadron Commander E.H. Dunning becomes the first person to land a wheeled aircraft on a moving ship, the HMS Furious.

Modern Carriers1918

HMS Argus becomes the first full-length flat deck carrier.

HMS Queen Elizabeth1918

It was on board the 1st HMS Queen Elizabeth that the German fleet handed in their surrender.

Modern Carriers1940

HMS Illustrious demonstrates the versatility of the carrier with its long-range strike on the Italian fleet at Taranto.

Modern Carriers1945

Lt Cdr Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown makes the first jet landing on the carrier, HMS Ocean.

Modern Carriers1945

Commander C.C. Mitchel of the Royal Naval Reserve invents the modern steam catapult.

Modern Carriers1951

The Royal Navy’s Lt Cmdr, Nicholas Goodhart, invents the Mirror Landing Aid, which helped pilots land safely. This revolutionised aircraft carrier design.

HMS Queen Elizabeth2008

Fast forward to the 21st century, when the new HMS Queen Elizabeth is commissioned by Defence Secretary, Des Browne.

HMS Queen Elizabeth2014

The new carrier is launched at Rosyth by Her Majesty The Queen, ushering in a new era for the Royal Navy and British naval warfare.

Above all, an inspiring feat

It’s almost poetic that it’s taken a small fleet of people to make the new carrier a reality. From the civilian staff of the aircraft carrier alliance, and the Royal Navy team working alongside them making sure we have processes in place for a quick integration. To the pilots currently seconded to US Navy carriers and other staff training with allies around the world. People have always been our strongest and most versatile asset. And though the HMS Queen Elizabeth is many things to different people – to the men and women of the Royal Navy it’s the beginning of an exciting new era in naval warfare.

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