Watch: Incredible moment 65,000-tonne HMS Queen Elizabeth docks at Portsmouth

Andy Wells
Freelance Writer

This is the mighty moment the UK’s new £3 billion aircraft carrier appeared at the mouth of Portsmouth Harbour.

Crowds lined the seafront to welcome HMS Queen Elizabeth, the Royal Navy’s newest and biggest ship, as it arrived at its home port for the first time.

The future flagship will now be based at Portsmouth Naval Base for its estimated 50-year lifespan.

Fireworks were let off as the giant carrier arrived (PA)

A flotilla of craft followed the behemoth aircraft carrier as she sailed into the Solent before heading into Portsmouth, where, at its narrowest point, there was less than 66ft (20m) clearance on each side.

With boots polished and caps perfectly placed, all the ship’s available company stood at the edge of the vessel as she arrived in the harbour and naval base.

As eager crowds waved and welcomed her in, Commander Darren Houston could be heard saying over the tannoy to those on the shore: “Good morning, Portsmouth”.

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Those on board and watching from the shore were also treated to two separate flypasts of Royal Navy helicopters – the first featuring a Sea King, two MK2 Merlins and two MK3 Merlins – which were then joined by two Hawk jets for the second.

Fireworks were let off as the giant carrier arrived, dwarfing the historic buildings at the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour.

An 820ft (250m) exclusion zone, enforced by armed police in small boats, meant the port was effectively closed to the small flotilla of boats which had turned out to greet the Queen Elizabeth.

Crowds lined Portsmouth Harbour to watch HMS Queen Elizabeth arrive (PA)

Navy officers and family members lined the jetty in the Navy base to welcome the ship, while the band of the Royal Marines played to entertain the crowds.

Lieutenant Commander Ian Pratt, who took a moment to take a photograph of the carrier as it sailed past, said: “Absolutely fantastic. What a wonderful day for the Royal Navy, for Portsmouth and the whole of the country, the flagship of our nation is home. Fantastic.”

The waterfront on both sides of the harbour was packed with people, waving flags and banners, keen to grab a view of the historic moment.

Louise Bond, 30, from Fareham, Hampshire, whose husband, Petty Officer Greg Bond, 33, is serving on board, said: “It’s my first homecoming. It’s brilliant. I was up at 2.30am, first in line.

A flotilla of craft followed the behemoth aircraft carrier (PA)

“It’s amazing, I wouldn’t miss it for the world. It’s a historic moment, once-in-a-lifetime to see.”

The 919ft (280m), 65-000 tonne vessel has been undergoing training and tests at sea after setting out from Scotland’s Rosyth dockyard in June.

It will likely deploy to the Gulf first, where Royal Marines could be dropped off at beaches and warplanes could take off from the vessel before taking out jihadists.

Lieutenant Commander Neil Twigg, a fast jet pilot responsible for integrating the F35 fighter jet into the carrier group, said: “We are very ready. There is still a lot more work to be done – the aircraft is still going through its testing programme in America and the ship has still some more sea trials – but we are on the right track.

Crowds described the vessel’s arrival as a ‘historic moment’ (PA)

“The sheer size … this is the 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier, the largest the Royal Navy has ever had, she is specifically built for the F35, the only aircraft carrier in the world designed for that air system, so a pretty unique capability the UK now has.”

Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon added: “Today we welcome our mighty new warship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, to her home for the very first time.

“She is Britain’s statement to the world: a demonstration of British military power and our commitment to a bigger global role.

“The thousands of people across the UK who have played a part in building her and her sister ship, HMS Prince of Wales, should be immensely proud as our future flagship enters Portsmouth.

The ship will likely deploy to the Gulf first (PA)

“She has made good progress in sea trials and will now embark on the next phase of preparations that will see the return of Britain’s carrier strike ability.

“When she enters service she will help keep Britain safe at a time of increased threats, able to fill multiple roles from providing air power anywhere at any time to fight future campaigns, supporting allies or delivering humanitarian aid.”

Here are some facts and figures behind the vessel which has entered Portsmouth, her home port, for the first time:

The aircraft carrier weighs 65,000 tonnes and has a top speed in excess of 25 knots.

It is the second ship in the Royal Navy to be named Queen Elizabeth.

The future flagship will be based at Portsmouth Naval Base for its estimated 50-year lifespan (PA)

The ship has a crew of around 700, that will increase to 1,600 when a full complement of F-35B jets and Crowsnest helicopters are embarked.

There are 364,000 metres of pipes inside the ship, and from keel to masthead she measures 56 metres – four metres more than Niagara Falls.

Facilities on board include a chapel, a medical centre and 12-bed ward, currently staffed with three GPs, a nurse and medical assistants, as well as a dentist and dental nurse.

There are also five gyms on the warship which include a cardio vascular suite, two free weight rooms and a boxing gym.

The £3 billion vessel is the Royal Navy’s newest and biggest ship (PA)

The Naafi – an on board corner shop – sells toiletries, soft drinks, crisps, sweets and biscuits, and even HMS Queen Elizabeth-branded thermos mugs. All the profits made at the store then go back into the forces.

Each of the two aircraft lifts on HMS Queen Elizabeth can move two fighter jets from the hangar to the flight deck in 60 seconds.

The warship has a range of 8,000 to 10,000 nautical miles, and has two propellers – which each weigh 33 tonnes and together output 80MW of power – enough to run 1,000 family cars or 50 high speed trains.

The crew is currently made up of around 80 women and 620 men.