US Navy's largest helicopter touches down on HMS Queen Elizabeth

Topic: Fighting armsSurface Fleet

Two iconic warbirds have made their debuts on the flight deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The MV-22 Osprey transport helicopter with its two unique tiltrotor blades at the extremes of its ‘wings’ has touched down on the UK’s newest aircraft carrier for the first time.

That was after the mammoth MH-53E Sea Dragon, the United States Navy’s biggest helicopter, also sat its considerable weight down on the flight deck.

This follows the first appearance of F-35 Lightning fighter jets on the carrier last month. 

Flight trials for the jets are ongoing off the east coast of the United States, where the 65,000-tonne warship is currently on a deployment called Westlant 18.

The helicopters’ visit gave Queen Elizabeth’s aircraft handlers the opportunity to work with the US aircraft and means they can now operate from the British carrier.

Commander James Blackmore is the Commander Air – also known as ‘Wings’ – on board HMS Queen Elizabeth and is in charge of flight operations. He said: “Proving we can operate with yet more US aircraft on board gives us more flexibility and adds to our own capability.

“It gives us a lot of options. It is another example of the fantastic relationship we have with our closest naval ally, as we are proving throughout Westlant 18.

The 100ft long, 33-tonne Sea Dragon can carry up to 55 troops and flew to the carrier from a US Navy air station in Norfolk, Virginia.

The Sea Dragons are mainly used in counter mine operations – the helicopter which visited HMS Queen Elizabeth was from Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron 14 – and for delivery of equipment and personnel.

The striking Osprey has previously made appearances on Royal Navy warships, having also flown from the decks of HMS Illustrious and Ocean.

The one that visited Queen Elizabeth was from the Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 264 or ‘Black Knights’ based at a United States Marine Corps Air Station in North Carolina.

HMS Queen Elizabeth has her own set of Merlin and Wildcat helicopters operating in her task group.

And recently, the Commando Helicopter Force landed a Commando Merlin from the carrier on another ship for the first time. The Merlin Mk4 from the Royal Marines’ flying squadron took off from Queen Elizabeth and landed their newly upgraded helicopter on the flight deck of HMS Monmouth.

The Naval Service took delivery of these more powerful and faster Merlin helicopters earlier this year and the modifications mean they can now operate from sea.

Despite rough seas caused by the remnants of Hurricane Florence, the Commando Merlin managed to touch down on the back of the Type 23 frigate.

HMS Queen Elizabeth left her home port of Portsmouth in August, crossing the Atlantic to conduct the flying trials as well as training with the US Navy.

More than 1,400 sailors, flight crew and Royal Marines have been working on board the carrier during her deployment.

The Royal Navy's two new aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, will project British military power across the globe for the next half a century.

Construction work continues at a pace on board HMS Prince of Wales, the second aircraft carrier in the class, which nears completion at the Rosyth shipbuilding yard.

They will be used to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, strengthen defence relationships with our nation’s allies, and support British armed forces deployed around the world.

In recent operations, US aircraft carriers including the USS George HW Bush and USS Harry S Truman have played a central role in the Gulf and Mediterranean, conducting strikes against Daesh in Iraq and Syria.

HMS Queen Elizabeth is on track to deploy on global operations from 2021. Meanwhile, the UK has now taken delivery of 16 out of a planned 138 F-35 jets as part of its world-leading fleet of military aircraft for use by the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.

Proving we can operate with yet more US aircraft on board gives us more flexibility and adds to our own capability.

Commander James Blackmore