December 30, 2008 Britain's new generation of aircraft carriers are beginning to take shape with the first of two planned vessels - the HMS Queen Elizabeth - now expected to enter service around 2016. Though still middleweights when compared to the USA's 100,000t displacement Nimtz class, the new vessels will still be the second biggest carriers afloat, displacing 65,000t, carrying more than 8,600 tons of fuel, 1,200+ personnel, 36 F-35B Joint Strike Fighters and four EH-101 Merlin helicopters, with a 16,000sqm flight deck that, as one of the design team recently put it to the Daily Mail, "would be a par four" if you covered it in grass.
But there are some formidable engineering challenges ahead before the £3.9 billion project becomes a reality. Because the design is too large to be handled by a single shipyard, the plan is to undertake construction of different modules in different locations before transporting them to Rosyth where the pieces - some of which will weigh up to 10,000 tons - will be put together like a set of giant building blocks on a scale never before attempted in Britain. The construction of the lower bow section has already begun and the work on the remaining pieces is slated to begin during the first half of 2009.
Notably, the new vessels will not use nuclear power, instead using giant electrical motors powered by two Rolls-Royce MT30 gas turbines backed by four diesel generators to drive the massive 30 ft wide five-blade propellers and reach speeds of 25 knots with a range of range of up to 10,000 nautical miles.
Other design innovations include the vessel's twin-island design, which separates control locations for navigation of the ship and management of the aircraft, and the use of a coarse, heat-resistant paint to cover the huge flight deck. By utilizing two 70-ton lifts the carriers will be able to deploy 24 planes into the air in 15 minutes.