As HMS Queen Elizabeth and her 750-strong Ship’s Company get ready to sail back to Portsmouth following four months of successful flight trials, Dean Kimber, Head of Queen Elizabeth Class Support, explains what happens when she gets home.
I’ll be honest it has been a bit strange with HMS Queen Elizabeth not being here. Not that we haven’t had plenty to do, but we’ve missed her, we’ve missed her crew and we’ve missed the imperative that drives us all as we support this wonderful ship. Looking out the window and seeing her again will be a good feeling.
The ship’s flight trials have been a resounding success and it would be very easy for us to think ‘that’s it, we’ve done our job’. However for me, success is when a ship returns back from a successful deployment and her ship’s company are home safe. That’s when you know when you’ve achieved something special.
It is always something truly amazing to see hundreds of friends and family standing on the jetty, waving her in, and the ship’s crew waving back, as she enters her home base. It’s a fantastic feeling knowing that we are part of making that happen. As a Portsmouth lad, born and bred, it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand-up.
I have been lucky enough to visit the ship a few times since she sailed for her trials and every time I’ve been astounded by the pride and enthusiasm she inspires in everyone who’s worked on her. A few months ago we met our U.S. team on arrival in Norfolk Naval Base, when the ship was alongside to de-rig her flight support, and they were just as excited and passionate about our Nation’s flagship as I was.
I’m grateful for how this team seamlessly supported us, and it is a source of great professional pride to see how our joint pre-planning paid dividends in getting the right people to the right place at the right time in order to deliver on our commitments to our customer.
I must say the ship looked absolutely fantastic and, whisper it, her modern design eclipsed that of the U.S. Navy carrier which was berthed next to her.
Once the ship is home the hard work will start once again. We will begin her 13-week capability insertion period, which will see us carry out work to ensure she has the equipment and improvements she needs.
Our works will be focused on three main areas:
- ship efficiency enhancements – such as work to improve fuel efficiency and cost effective tank cleaning
- flight command capabilities – working in the flight rooms to improve capability
- safety and maintenance activity – a variety of planned maintenance, from checking the evacuation systems to painting areas of the flight deck
She will quickly start to look very different, as more than 300 people from our team on-board on a daily basis. This number will rise to between 400 and 600 people from early next year. Tents and scaffolding will be put up to enable teams to paint the flight deck and fit ballistic protection.
We are constantly challenged with advancements in technology and design. Honing and improving the specification and capabilities of the first of class is a large part of what we’re doing, as lessons are learned and implemented on both HMS Queen Elizabeth and her sister ship HMS Prince of Wales. Alongside our Royal Navy colleagues we will be working to tight timescales to ensure the work is completed in time for her future trials and her operational role in the Carrier Strike Group from 2021.
But the work doesn’t stop there, there are other projects going on within the naval base as we prepare for the arrival of HMS Prince of Wales, and become a two-carrier operation. These are exciting times to work for BAE Systems, what we do really matters, and I for one can’t wait to get started.