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  1. ITV Report

Thousands line the shore to welcome back HMS Queen Elizabeth after three months at sea

Credit: LPhot Dan Rosenbaum/Royal Navy

One of Britain's two new aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth, has returned to Portsmouth, docking alongside her sister ship, HMS Prince of Wales, for the very first time.

Thousands turned out in the port city to welcome the ship and her crew home.

For her almost 700 crew, the ship's return marks the end of a successful period of trials and the chance to reunite with their families' for Christmas.

Homecomings are always a special occasion, but to be returning to Portsmouth with HMS Prince of Wales welcoming us home makes this a particularly special occasion."

– Captain Steve Moorhouse, CO of HMS Queen Elizabeth
Credit: LPhot Kyle Heller/Royal Navy
280
Length of the carrier in metres
65,000
Weight of the carrier in tonnes
25
Top speed in knots

The Queen Elizabeth has spent three months off the coast of America on the WESTLANT19 exercise, carrying out flight tests with British F35 fighter aircraft.

It's the first time that UK jets have flown from the deck of the carrier.

She was joined by other Royal Navy and NATO vessels, including HMS Dragon.

The Type 45 returned to Portsmouth earlier this week.

Credit: LPhot Alker/Royal Navy

The five-week period of operational tests with UK F-35s from the UK Lightning Force was significant and historic. As the last pilot to fly Harrier from the deck of HMS Ark Royal in 2010, it filled me with tremendous pride to see UK fixed wing aircraft operate once more from a British carrier.”

– Captain James Blackmore, Commander Air
  • More than 10 years in the making

The two carriers are the largest warships ever constructed for the Royal Navy.

The decision to buy the two carriers was originally made in 2007, with an expected cost of just over £4 billion.

The two were originally designed to use with the Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) version of the F35 fighter aircraft.

But the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) selected a different version of the jet, which would mean installing deck catapults and arrestor wires on the carriers.

This delayed production and increased costs, which eventually led to a U-turn back to the original STOVL plan.

The cost is now estimated to be more than £6 billion for the two ships.

F35s flew from HMS Queen Elizabeth last year, with UK F35s flown by Royal Navy and RAF crews have been testing onboard the ship this year.

The ship is expected to be declared operational next year, while HMS Prince of Wales will be formally commissioned as a Royal Navy warship in a ceremony with the Duchess of Cornwall next week.