HMS Queen Elizabeth has returned to Portsmouth after taking part in training missions with fighter aircraft at sea.
It's the first time the £3.1 billion warship has worked with the Dambusters squadron.
It also marks the first time 617 Squadron - famously known as the Dambusters, has fully joined HMS Queen Elizabeth as the UK prepares to deploy the next generation squadron of fighter aircraft to operate from the sea.
The future flagship vessel has cleared her penultimate hurdle for front-line duties after ten hugely-demanding weeks around the UK, preparing for her maiden deployment in the new year.
A final package of training in the autumn, working alongside NATO and US allies – will confirm her ability to act as a task group flagship, so that she can lead a potent carrier strike force on front-line operations anywhere in the world.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is an extraordinary ship crewed by extraordinary people from both the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. They deployed at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak and have remained at sea for over 10 weeks so that they could complete their operational training with the minimal risk of infection. They’ve put their duty to our country ahead of spending time with their families.
The training package - initially off the south coast tested the ability of all 1,100 men and women on board to deal with everything they might expect to face in peace and war.
There were 18 fictional fire and flood incidents raging simultaneously, with the ship expected to continue flying operations while damage control teams toiled in the carrier’s depths.
Dambusters F-35B and helicopter training exercise on HMS Queen Elizabeth
The carrier then shifted to the North Sea to welcome F-35 Lightnings from 617 Squadron, better known as The Dambusters.
It’s the first time operational UK F-35s have worked with Queen Elizabeth and they faced a punishing schedule once aboard, completing a record number of landings on the flight deck.
The fighters shared the flight deck with submarine hunting Merlin helicopters of 820 Naval Air Squadron from RNAS Culdrose. In all the fast jets and helicopters touch down on Queen Elizabeth 830 times in all weathers, at all times of day.
The collective training ended with a five-day test of the ship to defend against threats in the air, on the sea and beneath the waves, herself using F-35s, Merlins and frigate HMS Kent.
In the 70 days since leaving Portsmouth at the end of April, the carrier has been almost exclusively at sea and clocked up 11,500 miles. That's the equivalent of the distance from her home base to Auckland, New Zealand.
HMS Queen Elizabeth has travelled since leaving Portsmouth
The ship’s company have worked incredibly hard over the past 70 days, making every effort to surpass the high standards set by our assessors. They have come through with flying colours which means Her Majesty’s Ship Queen Elizabeth has taken a huge step towards sailing on her maiden deployment, flying the flag for the United Kingdom.
HMS Queen Elizabeth will now enjoy planned maintenance in Portsmouth before task group training later in the year, which will also see the ship work with two F-35 squadrons for the first time.