Home/Features/Features/HMS Prince of Wales: PH Meets

HMS Prince of Wales: PH Meets

Turns out Land Rover supplies the ship's captain with a car. Excuse enough for a look around...

By Alisdairsuttie / Thursday, October 25, 2018

When it comes to numbers, few are keener on statistics than car enthusiasts. Then you meet the crew, engineers and brains behind HMS Prince of Wales and realise cars pale into the ether compared to the UK's second Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier.

Some of the headline numbers are to be expected, such as an all-up weight of 65,000 tonnes that makes it the second biggest aircraft carrier type in the world. The flight deck is 280-metres long and 70-metres wide, which is enough to fit in three football pitches to give an idea of scale. And it can clip along at 25 knots when both 33-tonne propellers are at full tilt.

To enable that considerable top speed, there are twin 11.2-megawatt V16 diesel engines that do the bulk of the drudge work to power the ship, but to reach that impressive maximum rate there are twin Rolls-Royce Marine Trent turbine engines producing 36MW apiece. These turbines are only used for fast cruising as they are less efficient than the diesels and also have their own secondary fuel refinement system as they need a purer form of diesel to operate.

On top of that lot, there's another pair of turbodiesel engines to give a total power output of 118 MW - or in car terms, 160,000hp. A different way to look at the amount of power being generated under full steam is that HMS Prince of Wales could power a town the size of Swindon. It carries enough fuel onboard to cover 10,000 nautical miles, which is around 11,500 miles on land.

All of this information is becoming more familiar to the crew, headed by Commodore Stephen Moorhouse who took formal command of the ship last month. Until then, it was more of a highly specialised, and classified, building site at the Rosyth Naval Dockyard in Fife, Scotland. PH was lucky enough to be given a tour of the ship as Land Rover (who else?) provides a car for the Captain to use when onshore. Hundreds of shipbuilders and trades are still fitting out HMS Prince of Wales, but it will come in cheaper and quicker to build than its sister, the HMS Queen Elizabeth. Captain Moorhouse explains: "The total budget for both of the Navy's new aircraft carriers is £6.2 billion. However, Queen Elizabeth was effectively a prototype build, so everything we've learned from that has been incorporated into Prince of Wales. This means the second ship is 20 per cent cheaper and faster to build. Simple things such as knowing how to route cabling and piping for the second ship greatly improves the process, especially when there are 364,000 metres of pipework onboard."

The Royal Navy took command of the ship at the start of September because the operations room was ready for 'flashing up'. This gives the crew the chance to test many of the systems that make it operate as a ship. That includes the Long Range Radar that can track up to 1,000 objects in the sky within a 250-mile radius. To give an idea of the accuracy of this, Captain Moorhouse says: "We can keep an eye on objects as small as a snooker ball 20 miles away traveling at up to 2,300mph, so it helps when spotting incoming threats."

Not many will intimidate the HMS Prince of Wales. When fully kitted, it will fulfill its primary role as home to 36 Lockheed Martin F35B Lightning II fighter jets. These aeroplanes are stored in the main hangar under the flight deck and a pair of lifts can each have four aircraft up on deck within 60 seconds. The deck is treated with an aluminium and titanium compound to stop it melting under the extreme temperatures and forces created when the F35B's perform a vertical take-off. There's also a 13-degree ramp to help with conventional take-offs.

Supporting the F35B jets are four Merlin Crowsnest helicopters that provide radar information and double as an air-sea rescue support should one of the jets encounter problems.

The jets really are the heart of the ship and its reason for being, and Captain Moorhouse is particularly proud of the weapons handling system. He says: "On our US counterparts' large aircraft carriers, it takes around 350 crew to operate and arm their fighter jets. We do it with a team of 60 because of the Highly Mechanised Weapons Handling System that uses 'moles' to retrieve munitions from the arsenal and deliver them to the flight deck. Essentially, it works on the same principle as modern giant warehouses. We select what we need and it's delivered to the prep room."

With greater automation used in every area of HMS Prince of Wales over previous Royal Navy aircraft carriers, it has a crew of around 700. That increases to as many as 1,600 if the ship is heading into a 'hot' area and includes space for 250 Royal Marines.

Supporting all of this is a kitchen stocked with enough food for 45 days at sea and provides meals for the entire crew within 45 minutes when necessary.

There's also an onboard pharmacy, dentist, surgery and operating theatre, post office and prison cells should anyone get out of line. The more usual sleeping quarters are divided into 1,600 bunks spread across 470 cabins and all are soundproofed to help the crew get a decent kip.

Amid all of the facts and figures that make up HMS Prince of Wales, one of the most impressive is that it will have taken just eight years to go from the first cut of metal in 2011 to the day it squeezes out of the Rosyth dock in September 2019. Captain Moorhouse says: "It's a remarkable feat to build the most modern aircraft carrier in the world in that time. And perhaps even more notable is that HMS Prince of Wales will have an operational life of 50 years. It used to be said the people who would decommission a ship had yet to join the Navy. Now, we say those people have not even been born."

Find your next car