The Royal Navy's largest-ever warship is taking another step towards deploying on operations, and is training at sea with military aircraft for the first time.
HMS Queen Elizabeth, the first in a new class of British military vessels, sailed out of Portsmouth Naval Base on Feb. 2, 2018, to learn how to work with helicopters on the open waters.
The huge ship, which weighs 65,000 tonnes, is undergoing tests and training in pursuit of its ultimate aim of launching F35-B Lightning jets from its 280-meter flight deck.
Here are the best images of the departure, and its voyage so far:
This is HMS Queen Elizabeth, making its first voyage as an official member of the Royal Navy. Tugboats steered her past the Round Tower which guards the mouth of Portsmouth Harbour. At 56m tall, the carrier dwarfed it.
The carrier has sailed before, but only joined the Navy for keeps in December, when it was commissioned by Queen Elizabeth II in a grand ceremony.
The highlight was an enormous cake shaped exactly like the ship.
Here's the carrier heading past Portsmouth's Spinnaker Tower, with tugboats and a police escort.
This is the view of the Queen Elizabeth and the other ships from behind.
It's an impressive piece of hardware — here's a visual rundown of its stats from the manufacturers.
(Aircraft Carrier Alliance)
The stern of the ship flew Britain's Naval Ensign, a flag used by military ships at sea.
— HMS Queen Elizabeth (@HMSQnlz) February 2, 2018
And the Royal Navy uploaded social media video of the carrier in transit.
— Royal Navy (@RoyalNavy) February 2, 2018
Ahead of the departure, two twin-engine Chinook transporter helicopters landed on board, and will take part in the trials.
Here's how the Royal Navy described the purpose of the exercise:
"The aim of the trials is to work out the conditions that the aircraft can operate in while at sea on the carrier."
"They will collect data about the landings, take-offs and manoeuvres in different wind and sea conditions, before processing the information and ultimately declaring that the ship can safely operate the aircraft."
Here's another view of the choppers.
Chinooks are a mainstay of British air power, and have been in service since 1980.
The 30 metre-long tandem helicopters can carry around 55 people, or 10 tonnes of freight, and fly at around 180mph.
They are not combat craft, but can be equipped with two miniguns and a machine gun.
A few days after, Merlin helicopters flew out to join in, dispatched from Culdrose Royal Naval Air Station in Cornwall.
Merlins are a medium-sized transport helicopter. They can carry around 30 troops each and fly at speeds in excess of 190mph.
As well as carrying people, they can also carry weapons, such as torpedos and depth charges.
They can also act as scouts, thanks to advanced sensor systems onboard. Each one can scan the seas and send information back to the Queen Elizabeth from hundreds of miles away.
Eventually, 14 Merlins will be stationed on the Queen Elizabeth full-time.
The Queen Elizabeth is the first "twin-island" aircraft carrier in the world. Most carriers have one tower on deck to steer the ship and handle the aircraft, but the Queen Elizabeth split the tasks. They tweeted a view of the assembled helicopters for the read tower, used for flight.
— HMS Queen Elizabeth (@HMSQnlz) February 5, 2018
Eventually, HMS Queen Elizabeth ship will carry F-35B Lightning fighter jets, which will launch from its ski jump-style ramp. Here's an F-35B in action.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Carlos Jimenez)
In the future, the Queen Elizabeth could also be a platform for drones. Here's a Northrop Grumman X-47B.
(Photo: Northrop Grumman)
Captain Jerry Kyd, the commanding officer of HMS Queen Elizabeth, told Business Insider in an interview last year that "it's an absolute inevitability that [drones are] going to be embarked on this ship in the near future."
The carrier was last seen off the coast of Cornwall, the southwestern tip of the UK. This photo was taken by a local newspaper photographer, showing the ship near the St Michael's Mount landmark.
Penlee lifeboat looked tiny as it approached HMS Queen Elizabeth in Mount's Bay today. The UK's largest ever warship even made the enormous St Michael's Mount look small. https://t.co/umGr5tX9Yx @ntmichaelsmount @CornwallLive @penleelifeboat @HMSQnlz pic.twitter.com/FQS7vbgTHM
— Greg Martin (@photogregmartin) February 5, 2018
HMS Queen Elizabeth's next stop is reportedly Gibratlar, a British territory bordering Spain.