Pilots practice skills ahead of HMS Queen Elizabeth arrival

Topic: Fighting armsFleet Air Arm

The Royal Navy helicopter squadron dedicated to HMS Queen Elizabeth has been honing its skills ahead of the aircraft carrier's arrival into Portsmouth.

820 Naval Air Squadron, based at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose in Cornwall, is a fleet of Merlin Mk2 helicopters attached to the nation's future flagship.

They will be on board HMS Queen Elizabeth as she sails into her home port next week following several months of working with the carrier during her sea trials off the coast of Scotland.

Lieutenant Rob Andrews, one of the squadron's pilots, said: "This is the first time I have had the chance to both see and operate with the ship and it is still very exciting and hugely rewarding to be one of the first to work from such an impressive ship.

"820 NAS has been working with HMS Queen Elizabeth in support of her contractor sea trials. This has seen us operate as a helicopter delivery platform providing essential stores and crew work-up ahead of our more operational role when she is formally commissioned into the fleet."

820 NAS is the Royal Navy's oldest and most decorated frontline unit and is made up of roughly 150 men and women - a highly skilled mix of flight crew and engineers.

The Merlin Mk2 is a vastly capable aircraft, with its primary role being for anti-submarine warfare, although it can protect HMS Queen Elizabeth and her task group from a range of sub-surface, surface and air attacks.

Recent years have seen them operate in the Middle East and off the west coast of Africa during the Ebola crisis.

Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon announced on Monday that Britain's new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is set to enter her new home in Portsmouth in around a week's time.

Weather conditions mean the exact date of the historic moment is yet to be confirmed. The window for entry will open next Thursday 17 August, with her arrival expected to be no later than the following Tuesday 22 August.

With only three other countries in the world building aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth will give Britain the capability to lead the way in tackling global issues in an increasingly uncertain world, from providing humanitarian relief to high-end war fighting.

And with the state-of-the-art F-35B Lightning fighter jets on track to make their first trial flights from the carrier's deck next year, the UK is now building towards delivering carrier strike capability. Both aircraft carriers are being delivered by the Aircraft Carrier Alliance.

Earlier this week, HMS Queen Elizabeth met up with the USS George HW Bush and her carrier strike group off the coast of Scotland. The Nimitz-class US carrier has more than 60 Royal Navy sailors and Royal Marines on board, who have been working with their US counterparts to test their carrier strike skills ahead of HMS Queen Elizabeth's entry into service.

It is still very exciting and hugely rewarding to be one of the first to work from such an impressive ship

Lieutenant Rob Andrews, 820 Naval Air Squadron pilot