HMS Queen Elizabeth is the biggest aircraft carrier to sail into New York for half a century, the commanding officer of the ship has said.
The £3.1 billion behemoth warship, which has more than 1,000 personnel on board, anchored about two miles from Manhattan in the Hudson River on Friday.
Captain Jerry Kyd revealed that where the aircraft carrier stopped is just yards from where Admiral Lord Nelson also used to anchor his ships.
“We are the biggest carrier to go in there (New York) for about 50 years,” he said – highlighting how the larger nuclear-powered Nimitz Class American carriers are forbidden.
There was much excitement on board the vast vessel ahead of the visit, with those in the officers mess the night before heartily singing along to Frank Sinatra’s New York New York.
As HMS Queen Elizabeth began the sail into the city, with the Royal Marines band and a bagpiper playing the ship in, the crew lined the edges of the carrier and walkways, standing to attention and wearing their smartest uniforms.
Once dismissed by the captain, most of those on the four-acre flight deck gathered at the front of the ship and on the ski ramp to take in the views.
Due to hand over command of the ship on Wednesday to Captain Nick Cooke-Priest, Captain Kyd also revealed that the sail into New York holds extra poignancy for him.
It was in 1986 when he was serving on board HMS Ark Royal as a midshipman that he experienced his first foreign run ashore when that carrier also visited the city.
Captain Kyd, as he prepares to leave the ship for what will be his last run ashore, said the sight of the Statue of Liberty welcoming the aircraft carrier into the city would make him feel like an 18-year-old again.
With both of the test F-35B Lightning jets having disembarked the ship for maintenance, he said his visit 32 years ago involved a touch of aviation flair in the form of two Sea Harriers flying off HMS Ark Royal, hovering in front of the Statue of Liberty and bowing to it.
Asked what message HMS Queen Elizabeth sailing into the metropolis sent, Captain Kyd said it was symbolic of the link between the Royal Navy, US Navy and America and Britain in a post-Brexit world.
This sentiment was echoed by Commodore Mike Utley, commander of the UK Carrier Strike Group, who said the visit to New York “shows our global intent as a country”.
“We are a global nation that seeks to further our western democratic values,” he said.
“We care about what goes on in the world and that is certainly not going to change any time soon. This is a statement for the next 50 years – it is a statement of intent.”
He said the visit was also a “massive statement of our close relationship with the United States” and between the Royal Navy and US Navy.
“That is an enduring partnership, and this is a statement of that enduring partnership, which will continue into the future as the Carrier Strike Group becomes operational,” he added.
A floating military base from which the F-35B Lightning jets will launch, from 2021 US Marine Corps will also operate their warplanes from HMS Queen Elizabeth.
Cdre Utley said the partnership between the two countries is apparent and runs deep within the F-35 programme.
This includes a pooling of the jets at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina, and a replenishment at sea from a US Navy ship to HMS Queen Elizabeth during her Westlant 18 deployment off the east coast of America.
With no set figure on how many US F-35s may be embarked upon the UK carrier, he said the air wing will be a combined one featuring British jets and the US Marine Corps.
Asked whether this was unprecedented, he said: “Historically you might not have seen combined air wings in aircraft carriers – but I think the future of defence is that we are going to have to co-operate more and more.”
Cdre Utley said there was an economic, military, strategic, diplomatic and political benefit to the arrangement, adding: “You may well see, in the future, British F-35s operating off US carriers.”
On Saturday Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson is expected to visit HMS Queen Elizabeth, where he will make a speech during a special Trafalgar Day dinner held on board.
A number of other dignitaries and special guests, including the head of the Royal Navy, Admiral Sir Philip Jones, are also expected to attend the formal event.