Yard work begins to look shipshape

Giant ... the hull of the Queen Elizabeth being put together.
Giant ... the hull of the Queen Elizabeth being put together.

PART of a landmark £5bn defence contract involving work for a South Tyneside yard is taking shape.

An operation has taken place at BAE Systems’ Govan yard on the Clyde to bring together some of the biggest sections of new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth II .

A&P Tyne, Hebburn, delivered a section for the carrier five weeks ahead of schedule last year.

The Hebburn yard is the only North East facility involved in the massive dual carrier project for the Ministry of Defence (MoD), which has seen shipmaking return to the Tyne for the first time since the iconic HMS Ark Royal was built and launched on the river 30 years ago.

It took about 90 minutes to move a 4,087-ton section of the hull of the aircraft carrier 328ft (100m) via 132 remote-controlled transporters to join another section of the ship.

Engineers will now spend the next week ensuring that the sections are perfectly aligned before welding them together into a 263ft (80m) long, 11,500-ton section.

Project director, Steven Carroll, said it marked a “major milestone” in the construction.

He said: “They are the largest and most powerful warships we’ve ever built for the Royal Navy. They are 65,000 tons, so about three times the size of our present ‘Invincible’ class, and these ships will be the flagships for the nation for years to come.”

Some of the Hebburn workforce who completed the carrier section also worked on HMS Ark Royal.

But just weeks after the successful completion of work for HMS Queen Elizabeth, A&P Tyne had to shed jobs after part of the contract for second carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, was transferred to project partner, BAE Systems in Portsmouth, because of a shortage of work.

The loss of work on a centre block unit for HMS Prince of Wales triggered more than 90 redundancies at the yard, just before last Christmas.

But A&P Tyne, which has signed contracts with BAE Systems to build centre block units for both carriers, has managed to fill the orders gap with new work.

Once assembly of HMS Queen Elizabeth is completed, it will be a 919ft carrier, capable of deploying up to 40 Lockheed Martin F-35 aircraft.

But the carrier will not be completed until 2016 at the earliest, and may not see active service until 2020.

The £5bn double carrier contract is one of the biggest defence projects ever launched in the UK.

Twitter: @terrykelly16