ALL eyes may were on the Rosyth dockyard near Scotland yesterday as the Queen officially named the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier.
But it is Lancashire aerospace giant BAE that is responsible for some of HMS Queen Elizabeth’s revoluntary technology and techniques.
For years, fighter pilots from the RAF and Navy have been using a multi-million pound simulator, based in an old Second World War hanger and radar dome at Warton.
The high tech kit has allowed engineers to ‘work years into the future’, landing F-35 Lightning II stealth jets - partly built in Samlesbury and yet to be flown in the UK in reality - on a virtual model of the carrier, which will be brought into use in 2020.
A pilot in a life-like cockpit carries out virtual missions while in an adjacent room, officers communicate from a ‘flight deck’, as they watch the pilot on large screens showing exactly what they will see from the real flight deck.
Based on pilot feedback, the real, 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier - the largest warship to ever be built in the UK - has been tweaked and enhanced, including the moving of lights and landing zones on the deck.
A new landing manoeuvre has also been developed, allowing the jets to carry a far heavier payload than it would if it had to land vertically.
Aircraft to ship integration lead on the F-35 programme, David Atkinson, said the simulator has been developed since 2003 and, at the time, it was completely unique.
He said: “We have saved millions by providing an environment where we can come up with solutions to a problem, and then test them out. The pilots are saying, ‘do it like that, that will work’.”
Mr Atkinson said in the past, there would have no easy way to allow pilots to test the usability of carriers before they were built, whereas now landing strips can be altered at the push of a button.
“It would be based on experience, and we would not have found out until we have built the ship,” he said. “Or we would mark it up on a runway, which is an expensive thing to do even once.
“When we developed the ship model with the aircraft model, with the pilot and the landing strip officer working together, it was unique at the time.
“It’s the only place in the world you can fly an F-35 on the HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier, and the US has now used this idea for their carriers.”
AS a fully-fledged member of Generation Xbox, and having grown up watching Top Gun so many times I almost wore the VHS tape out, I didn’t expect to be wowed by a flight simulator.
But I was immediately impressed as I was led through an old aircraft hanger in Warton to a small room.
On the right, there was a flight deck with large displays showing the HMS Queen Elizabeth’s deck, bobbing up and down on waves.
And in a small dome annex sat a F-35 cockpit, which I was invited to climb into.
I’m a man of relatively large stature, and did feel a bit like an elephant in a rowing boat as I sat down, clutching a ‘joysticks’ either side of me, putting my feet on two pedals, which operated the brakes and rudders.
But within minutes, I was landing the jet, taxiing, taking off again, and performing a fly-by at breakneck speed.
I didn’t crash, but in all honesty the F-35 almost flies itself. With a push of a button it had slowed itself down, positioned itself beside the carrier, and was hovering above it at exactly the same speed of 10 knots.