HMS Prince of Wales: Tight squeeze for 'extraordinary' UK aircraft carrier in maiden voyage

19 September 2019, 19:09 | Updated: 20 September 2019, 07:38

Britain's newest aircraft carrier has squeezed out of its dockyard for the first time before starting nine weeks of sea trials.

HMS Prince of Wales only had one metre of clearance either side as it passed through a narrow 40-metre wide opening at the basin during high tide in Rosyth, Scotland.

The extremely delicate manoeuvre by navigators, pilots and tug boats marked the maiden voyage for the 65,000-tonne ship which is 280 metres long, 70 metres wide, and covers an area of four acres.

It has been built to carry 36 F-35 stealth fighter jets and four Merlin helicopters and will have a crew of around 700. It was constructed in six shipyards around the UK.

The £3.1bn aircraft carrier will anchor for three to five days in the Firth of Forth before it passes under the river's bridges during low tide.

The mast pole, which operates on a hydraulic system, will be lowered so it can pass under the structures before it heads towards the North Sea.

HMS Prince of Wales is expected to head to its home base of Portsmouth once trials are completed and will be handed over to the Royal Navy at the end of the year.

It should be fully ready for frontline duties around the world from 2023.

During their 50-year service, HMS Prince of Wales and its sister ship HMS Queen Elizabeth can be used for various operations such as strike missions or providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief.

The pair have been called "Formula One ships" that will give the UK "hard power against enemies" if needed.

Rear Admiral Martin Connell, assistant chief of naval staff aviation and carrier strike, said: "I was the commanding officer of HMS Illustrious - our former aircraft carrier.

"And if someone had told me at the beginning of this decade we would have two brand new aircraft carriers at sea by the end of the decade, I wouldn't have believed them.

"In a matter of days, perhaps weeks, we are going to have HMS Queen Elizabeth on the western Atlantic operating F-35s stealth fighter jets, as well as HMS Prince of Wales around the UK doing contractor sea trials.

"That is a remarkable feat in terms of the project. But, also what it gives us is the ability and the confidence to think we will have a continuous carrier capability for decades."

Minister for defence procurement Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who toured the ship ahead of the departure, said it is "fantastic that we have got our carrier strike capability back".

"These are Formula One ships - extraordinary beasts delivering both global power projection and indeed the ability to deliver hard power if we need to against our enemies," she added.