I managed to grab some pictures today of HMS Illustrious leaving the Harbour.
The second ship in the Invincible Class of light aircraft carrier, Illustrious was commissioned in 1982. Her completion was brought forward during the Falklands War to provide cover for HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible. Weighing in at 22,000 tons, with a full crew of over 1,000 men and a top speed of 30 knots, Illustrious and her sister ship were the biggest ships in the Royal Navy until the completion of the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean.
They can operate as either fixed wing aircraft carriers, or helicopter carriers should HMS Ocean be unavailable. They have a ski jump, which enables the Harrier vertical or short take off jets to take off with a slightly higher weapon payload. They can also carry Sea King Helicopters in the anti-submarine role.
Interestingly, in the years before they were ordered, the Navy announced that its receding commitments meant that it would no longer need aircraft carriers. However, it rapidly became clear that naval air cover would be necessary, so a new class of smaller carriers was designed. However, to avoid political embarassment, they were dubbed ‘through deck cruisers’. My Dad, a former Dockyard electrical fitter, can remember working on Invincibles underwater sonar in dry dock when she first came into Portsmouth.
I’ve been on Illustrious – affectionately known as Lusty – a couple of times, at Navy Days was back in 1994 and last year at the Meet the Navy event. For once the Navy got the names of their ships spot on with the Invincible Class – Invincible, Illustrious and Ark Royal are all historic, inspiring names. The Invincible Class have all been based in Portsmouth throughout their service, and have been a common sight steaming in and out of the harbour. Even though they look a bit tired nowadays, they look pretty smart in their overall appearance.
They’re getting on a bit now, and the first ship in the class – Invincible – was decommissioned in 2005, probably to provide spares for the other two ships until their replacements – the much bigger Queen Elizabeth Class carriers – are ready halfway through the next decade.