On June 3, an Apache AH Mk 1 attack helicopter landed on the deck of the UK Royal Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, for the first time, to commence its preliminary ship integration testing.Having already hosted RN Merlin and Wildcats and RAF Chinooks to help write the ship’s ‘operations manual’, the team on the carrier are now working with the gunship to practise some of the routines needed to support the Army Air Corps helicopters on operations. The attack helicopter that conducted the first landing belonged to the British Army’s Attack Helicopter Force (AHF) and assigned to 656 Sqn Army Air Corps (AAC). Under Joint Helicopter Command, the Attack Helicopter will begin a series of tests and evaluations in what is known as the Platform Ship Integration Testing or PSITs for short.
The ‘Platform Ship Integration Testing’ is being led by 667 (Development & Trials) Squadron AAC with the assistance of ground crew and engineers from 656 Sqn AAC as well as the ship’s company. During a busy three days, they are performing various tasks from the basics of stowing the gunship securely to carrying out maintenance, refuelling the helicopter, the safe handling and loading of weapons and ammunition. That will help pave the way for 656 Squadron embarking on the Portsmouth-based warship later this year. Once the PSITs have been successfully negotiated in Portsmouth, HMS Queen Elizabeth will take to sea with Apache aboard for its sea trials in July where it will conduct landings and take-offs from a pitching and rolling deck. Only on completion of this, will the Apaches be officially certified to be able to operate from both HMS Queen Elizabeth and her sister ship HMS Prince of Wales, when she becomes operational.
Apache operated sporadically from the decks of HMS Illustrious and HMS Ocean – including conducting air strikes at targets in Libya during the civil war of 2011. It had not, however, touched down on the nation’s new class of carriers until yesterday, flying in from Wattisham in Suffolk and safely guided on to the sprawling flight deck by Leading Aircraft Handler Sion Rose. The Apache AH Mk 1 is a licence-built version of the Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopter for the British Army Air Corps. The first eight helicopters were built by Boeing; the remaining 59 were assembled by Westland Helicopters at Yeovil, Somerset in England. Changes from the AH-64D include Rolls-Royce Turbomeca engines, a new electronic defensive aids suite and a folding blade mechanism allowing the British version to operate from ships.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is the lead ship of the Queen Elizabeth class of aircraft carriers, the largest warships ever built for the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom and capable of carrying up to 60 aircraft. She is named in honour of the first Queen Elizabeth, a renowned World War I era super-dreadnought, which in turn was named after Queen Elizabeth I. This latest Queen Elizabeth will carry her namesake’s honours, as well as her Tudor rose-adorned crest and motto. HMS Queen Elizabeth, the 60,000-tonne flagship of the Royal Navy, recently passed her rigorous dry dock inspection at Babcock’s Rosyth dockyard in Scotland and returned to her homeport at HMNB Portsmouth. The carrier is now in preparation for her deployment to the east coast of the USA later this year. ‘WESTLANT 19’ will include ‘operational testing’ with UK F-35B Lightning II fighter jets, following on from last’s year’s ‘developmental tests’ with US trials jets.