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Norfolk's stealth fighters take off for first carrier mission

PUBLISHED: 08:27 30 August 2019 | UPDATED: 10:15 30 August 2019

HMS Queen Elizabeth at berth in HMNB Portsmouth, as her crew prepare to sail to the United States for trials with F-35 jets  Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

HMS Queen Elizabeth at berth in HMNB Portsmouth, as her crew prepare to sail to the United States for trials with F-35 jets Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

The Royal Navy's £3bn aircraft carrier is to set sail for the US where stealth fighters from RAF Marham will take off from its flight deck for the first time.

Royal Air Force F-35 Lightning aircrafts from Dambusters 617 Squadron. Picture: RAF MarhamRoyal Air Force F-35 Lightning aircrafts from Dambusters 617 Squadron. Picture: RAF Marham

HMS Queen Elizabeth will depart from Portsmouth Naval Base today for the deployment to the eastern coast of the US where the crew will take part in exercises with the US Navy.

The carrier will sail along with the Type 45 destroyer HMS Dragon and Type 23 frigate HMS Northumberland.

Commodore Mike Utley, commander of the UK maritime strike group, said: "It's a massive enterprise of thousands of people that will deploy on this next deployment who will take the next step from being able to operate Lightning aircraft from this ship and put that all together with the broader capability set."

Queen Elizabeth and her 800-strong crew sail as three students at the RAF's Top Gun academy find out which of them will be given the chance to fly the F-35.

With footage shot at the RAF's academy in North Wales and at the F-35 base in South Carolina, USA, ITV series Fighter Pilot - The Real Top Gun has followed a trio of pilots training to fly the RAF's £100m jet.

It features Danielle, who is aiming to become one of only nine British female frontline pilots, former windsurfing instructor Sedge, and young dad Andy.

Academy boss Puppy says: "I think they come to us as good pilots and they leave us fighter pilots and that's a big difference. One - they're more mature. Two - they think more like a warrior would think. And three - they've got the ability to no longer just do flying. Now they're thinking how they win in combat. And that is a very different person than when they came."

In South Carolina, the British F-35 Lightning crew establish whether they are frontline ready with the new aircraft.

Rewinding to last summer, squadron boss Butch and other pilots are due to take the UK's first four jets 4,000 miles to the waiting crowds and media at their new home at Marham.

He says the pilots face a gruelling eight and a half hours at the helm: "To fly for that long in a fighter jet is tiring on its own, you're sitting in a single position on a hard seat, that is not designed for comfort, like it would be on an airliner."

Fighter Pilot - The Real Top Gun is screened on ITV on Tuesday (9pm).

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