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HMS Queen Elizabeth

HMS Queen Elizabeth, the largest Aircraft Carrier Ship ever built for the Royal Navy, took to the water for the first time in July this year following an extensive six year design and build project.

The Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers will be the biggest and most powerful warships ever constructed for the Royal Navy. The class includes HMS Queen Elizabeth, the first of class, and HMS Prince of Wales.

Premier Construction caught up with David Downs, the Engineering Director at ACA, to find out more about the construction of HMS Queen Elizabeth. David’s role makes him responsible for the all of the engineering work and design on the ship, as well as ensuring the ship is safe to operate and meets its requirements upon completion. He also oversees the transportation of all of the ship parts. David told us more about the team behind the construction of the impressive warship:

“The contracts for both ships are being carried out by the ACA, which is an alliance of the industrial partners and Ministry of Defence, who will design, build and deliver into service the two aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.

“No one single shipyard was capable of building the whole ship and so there were six shipyards in total involved in the construction process. The ship’s hull has been broken down into blocks allowing chunks of the ship to be built in all of the different yards.”

HMS Queen Elizabeth

Works initially began on the construction process in July 2009; however there had been a tremendous amount of design work going on for a long time prior to that

The ship was constructed in three chunks; Lower Block Two, Lower Block Three and Lower Block Four. Block Two was built in Portsmouth and the other two were constructed at Govan Yard on the Clyde. Each of the blocks is about the size of a normal ship and so each block was completely outfitted in the build yard before leaving to ensure as much of the process was undertaken before the blocks were moved. Teams at the ship yards ensured all cabins and pipes were fitted as well as pulling all of the cables before moving the blocks.

When completed the blocks were loaded onto a semi submersible yard which was towed round two dry docks. The large blocks were then floated off the barge into the dry dock before being joined together. All the other parts of the ship including the stern, valves and the sections above the hanger were built in blocks that weigh less than a 1000 tonnes, before being lifted on to the sip and fitted.

HMS Queen Elizabeth

During the construction process ACA have developed a platform navigation device which guides those on board the ship through its 3000 compartments. The ship has virtually no windows and is set across 17 decks so the indoor navigation device uses handheld phones which can be scanned to tell the handler the shortest route to their destination.

The manufacturing phase of this contract was let in July 2008 and the first ship HMS Queen Elizabeth was named in July 2014. HMS Queen Elizabeth will spend 18 months static whilst the systems outfit is commissioned and completed. The ship will then go to sea in 2016 and will be handed over to the Ministry of Defence and the Royal Navy in 2017 before it embarks for the east coast of the USA in 2018. The ship will enter service in 2020.

David said this project came with its challenges due to the ship being the biggest ever built for the Royal Navy. The 1950’s was the last time an aircraft carrier was built in this country and so none of the modern day team had much experience of designing this type of ship. David added:

“Because of the lack of experience we used a lot of different sources to assist us; there were seven different designers involved. Another challenge was the number of ship yards involved in the project; many of the yards needed to update the skills of their workforce in order to undertake the task as well as replenish the yards equipment and resources.

HMS Queen Elizabeth

“The dry dock also needed to be modified in order to assemble the ship. Despite the difficulties we have managed to stay on schedule throughout the project; all of the major evolutions have been achieved on time.”

David said the team still face serious challenges to the programme going forward including ensuring the ship is fully operational before handover, training the ship’s crew and placing the appropriate infrastructure in place for it to be despatched to the east coast in 2018.

The ship as well as being an aircraft carrier has numerous other purposes including being able to support amphibious operations, landing forces on to occupied beaches, as well as being able to provide humanitarian disaster relief to many.

HMS Queen Elizabeth

David said this project has been the pinnacle of his career:

“Delivering the nation’s flagships is definitely something to tell your grandchildren about. I’m a naval architect and have been working in the ship building industry for 40 years so there is nothing else I’d rather do than work on this project. It has been a very interesting challenge and seeing the iconic ship out there in the basin and afloat is something I am very proud of.”

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