September 17, 2018 – HMS Queen Elizabeth has arrived in Norfolk, Virginia, having escaped the clutches of Hurricane Florence, which is continuing to wreak devastation over large areas of the East Coast of the USA.
The ‘WESTLANT 18’ Task Group, which includes the carrier’s escort, HMS Monmouth, was forced to take evasive action to avoid the damaging winds which have lashed North and South Carolina and Virginia, bringing tidal surges and several months’ worth of rain throughout the weekend.
Instead of heading directly north from Mayport Naval Base last week, as previously planned, HMS Monmouth was dispatched to south of the Bahamas, which provided a natural windbreak and shelter from the strong swell. HMS Queen Elizabeth followed on, skirting south of the Hurricane, but close enough for the effects to still be felt. The effects of a four meter swell, five meter wave height and winds gusting 40 knots have been felt throughout the carrier, as the 65,000 tonne ship rolled around the Atlantic.
Navigating Officer, Lieutenant Commander Sam Stephens, explains it’s better than being alongside. “It might sound counter-intuitive to sail when you know there is bad weather inbound” he said.
“But ships are designed to be at sea, it is better to not be tied up close to things that can cause damage, like jetties, or fenders. We skirted around the south of the Hurricane, it’s always better to be behind it and to be able to change direction if it decides to, rather than be ahead of it and find yourself trapped.”
Aside from the weather, another challenge has been operating in increasingly congested water space, with scores of US naval units having been dispersed from their bases to sea; including the US aircraft carriers USS Kearsarge and USS George H.W. Bush and their associated Task Group units.
The ‘WESTLANT 18’ Task Group units will be in Norfolk to onload the equipment and personnel required to conduct first of class flying trials with test F-35B Lightning fighter jets from the Integrated Test Force (ITF), based at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.
Around 200 supporting staff, including pilots, engineers, maintainers and data analysts will be joined by two ‘orange wired’ test aircraft, belonging to the ITF, which are expected to conduct 500 take offs and landings during the trials.
The aim of these initial ‘developmental trials’ are to ascertain, through the specially equipped aircraft and sensors around the ship, the operating parameters of the aircraft and ship, in a range of conditions.