UK: HMS Illustrious in Service Again


The flight deck of HMS Illustrious has buzzed and throbbed once more with aircraft as helicopters returned to the first time since her £40m overhaul.

LA James Batley guided the first aircraft – a Merlin of 814 Naval Air Squadron – to set down on the deck of ‘Lusty’ in more than 18 months, and thus the carrier to another small step in her long road back to front-line duties.

The Flying Tigers of 814 were joined aboard Illustrious by 815 NAS of Yeovilton who sent a Lynx to help the carrier’s Flyco – flying control – and deck team practise the landing and take-off procedures after such a long gap.

It wasn’t just about honing those skills, however, as once aboard the helicopters were used to refresh the skills and facilities of the 22,000-tonne warship’s air engineers.

Illustrious sailed last month for sea trials following a £40m refit in Rosyth which saw living spaces and machinery revamped, a fresh coat of sleek paint applied to the hull to make the ship cut through the seas more efficiently, new computer and comms kit fitted and, in line with last year’s defence review, saw Lusty converted to a helicopter/commando carrier for up to 20 whirlybirds and 600 Royal Marines commandos with all their kit.

Above all, an aircraft carrier needs aircraft, so Illustrious’ Commander Air – the person in charge of all operations on board the warship – Cdr Nigel May was delighted with the throb of Merlin and Lynx on the flight deck once more.

After a long refit period, the ship’s company were keen to receive our first Royal Navy aircraft,” he said.

The arrival of both aircraft on board was a great sight – and the first step in recreating maritime aviation capability from the ship in our regeneration process.

From the experience of the aircrews, that regeneration has begun smoothly.

The deck crews were slick and safe and very enthusiastic to get aircraft back on the deck,” said Lt AJ Thompson, Lynx Flight Commander.

It’s fantastic to play a part in Illustrious’ regeneration process.

In the coming weeks more helicopters will be helping to breathe life back into Illustrious – more Lynx and Merlin, plus Jungly Sea King Mk4 of the Commando Helicopter Force and Army Air Corps’ Apaches which are currently demonstrating the potency of a carrier-helicopter gunship combination off Libya from HMS Ocean.

Her initial period of sea trials over, Illustrious is due to return to Portsmouth for the first time since her refit at 4.50pm on Thursday. Several hundred families will be waiting for her on the jetty in the naval base.

Source: royalnavy, July 6, 2011;