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An exciting day for the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy, as the first of a new class of supercarriers, the HMS Queen Elisabeth, is beginning her sea trials today. Although she will not be operational for a few years and is still awaiting the delivery of her main armament, the V/STOL (Vertical / Short Take Off a Landing) variant of the F-35, going to sea is still an important milestone in developing and building the Royal Navy’s new flagship.

The lead ship of the Queen Elizabeth-class of aircraft carriers (she will later be joined by the HMS Prince of Wales), HMS Queen Elizabeth is the largest warship ever built for the Royal Navy. She will be formally commissioned by the end of 2017, with Commodore Jerry Kyd, former captain of HMS Ark Royal and HMS Illustrious being her first Commanding Officer.

Unlike most large carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth is not fitted with catapults or arrestor wires, instead being designed to operate V/STOL aircraft. Capable of carrying up to forty aircraft, the Royal Navy emphasises the “design emphasises flexibility, with accommodation for 250 Royal Marines and the ability to support them with attack helicopters and troop transports up to Chinook size and larger.

However, the design seems to make HMS Queen Elizabeth capable of only carrying the F-35. This aircraft has received its fair share of critique, and although its cancellation seems averted for the time being, the controversy surrounding the plane rages on.

Originally, the plan was for the French to participate in the development of the carrier, but they have dropped out in 2013, which makes the Royal Navy’s two supercarriers the largest, most powerful in their class in Europe. Including Russia, who’s navy only has the Admiral Kuznetsov – which carries the SU-33 and MIG-29K fighters.

HMS Queen Elizabeth is the second ship to bear the name, and will be based at HMNB Portsmouth. She will be armed with at least three Phalanx CIWS anti-missile defence systems, 30mm DS30M Mark 2 Automated Small Calibre Guns and miniguns.

Besides the F-35 fighters, she will carry AgustaWestland Merlin, Wildcat, Apache, and Seaking as well as Boeing Chinook helicopters.