The day has arrived, and the first leg of a long, adventorous journey has been completed. It has been an exciting ride. At times, excitement has been caused by all the wrong reasons, as the carrier went through budgetary storms and stood in front of attacks coming from multiple directions, even before being structurally completed.
Much remains to do. The fitting out of Queen Elizabeth will begin later this month, after the ship comes out of No. 1 Dock, to be parked into Rosyth's basin. In September, the blocks of Prince of Wales will begin to enter the No. 1 Dock to begin a streamlined, improved build phase that will take a good 12 months less, thanks to the lessons learned.
In the meanwhile, studies and simulation work will be completed, to finalize the flying deck design: DSTL is working on how best to allocate deck spots, as the Royal Navy begins to wrestle with the complexity of Carrier Enabled Power Projection: effectively, merging the carrier strike role and the amphibious assault support. The Flypast, which included the Support Helicopter Force with Chinook and Merlin, is there to remember us that, with no direct replacement in sight for HMS Ocean, the carriers have a big mission ahead of them in the amphibious operations arena as well.
Come August 2016, Queen Elizabeth will be finally out to sea for her sea trials, and in May 2017 she will be commissioned. Over 2018 we will see the beginning of fixed wing air operations on her deck, with the F-35B.
In January 2019, her sister Prince of Wales will start her own trials, and she should be commissioned later in the same year.
A long road lays ahead still. In the middle, there are an independence referendum, a general election, an SDSR. Storms that will once again send great waves against the carrier's bow.
But for today, as HMS Illustrious guards over her "big sister", let's just take pride and happiness in all what has been achieved. Big congratulations to the thousands of people, all over the UK, who have worked to make this happen.
With the Queen's permission, splice the mainbrace!