IT’S ‘full steam ahead’ for one of the biggest engineering projects Hampshire has ever undertaken, as the first of four vast sets of diesel generators are lowered into the emerging superstructure of an aircraft carrier.

The biggest and most powerful warship ever built for the Royal Navy will be followed by a second identical vessel. Building of the Queen Elizabeth reached a key milestone with the first set of generators being lifted into position.

Each ship will have two Rolls-Royce gas turbines and four diesel generator sets providing enough power for 300,000 kettles or 5,500 family homes in a town the size of Swindon.

Both ships are to be constructed in blocks at shipyards across the country, with the former VT Group yard in Portsmouth, now operated by BAE Systems Surface Fleet, hard at work on building Lower Block Two. This will form part of the hull and house machinery spaces, stores, switchboards and some of the ship’s accommodation.

This block alone will weigh more than 6,000 tonnes and will stand more than 18 metres tall, 70 metres long and 40 metres wide. In comparison, a Type 45 destroyer weighs in at 7,500 tonnes.

More than three times the size of the existing Invincible Class aircraft carriers and capable of carrying up to 1,450 men and 50 aircraft, the carriers are 284m long and 73 metres wide.

It’s providing work for more than 3,000 BAE staff in Hampshire and a contracts bonanza for a host of firms across the region, including S o u t h a m p t o n - b a s e d Kempsafe, which has contracts worth almost £4m for galley and laundry equipment on the carriers.

Later, the Portsmouth yard will start work on the two superstructure islands on each of the ships – one of which is for ship navigation and the other for air operations.

Hampshire workers will also build the pole mast for cutting edge sensors and communications equipment.

Lower Block 2 and other sections will be transported to Rosyth, Scotland, for assembly in dry-dock in 2012, with the first ship coming into service sometime after 2015.

Steven Carroll, Queen Elizabeth Class project director at BAE Systems, said: “The diesel generators are the first major component of the power and propulsion system to be installed on the carrier.

This critical step highlights the huge amount of progress on the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier programme, not only made by our workforce here in Portsmouth since work began in February, but also of the momentum behind this programme right across the design and engineering teams in the wider Aircraft Carrier Alliance.”