HMS Queen Elizabeth welcomes US Navy heavyweights on flight trials

After welcoming her first F-35B fighter jets on the flight deck as part of first-of-class flight trials, the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth recently welcomed two US Navy helicopter heavyweights on the deck.

The first to land was the United States Navy’s biggest helicopter – the MH-53E Sea Dragon, followed closely by the MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft.

Flight trials for the jets are ongoing off the east coast of the United States, where the 65,000-ton 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.”

The 100ft long, 33-ton 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 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.

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.

Photo: An MV-22 Osprey lands on the flight deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth. Photo: Royal Navy