HMS Illustrious Becomes Helicopter Ship

The Royal Navy's last operational fixed-wing aircraft carrier has begun sea trials after completing a £40 million upgrade programme to convert it into a helicopter carrier.

HMS Illustrious, affectionately known as Lusty, has been in the Rosyth dockyard in Fife for 16 months where she underwent modifications to turn her into a helicopter and commando carrier.

The 22,000-tonne ship is now capable of carrying a force of up to 20 helicopters and 600 personnel.

Commanding officer, (CO) Captain Jerry Kyd, who was the last CO of HMS Ark Royal before she was decommissioned, said:

''This is an historic day for us as we sail from Rosyth for the last time and begin our preparation for our future role as a helicopter platform.

''We are in top condition for the challenges ahead thanks to the hard work of my sailors and the successful partnership that we have had with industry.

''We are now raring to go, ready to take this great ship to sea for trials, and then home to Portsmouth, where we will prepare for her exciting future role.''

Illustrious will take over the role currently fulfilled by HMS Ocean when she goes for a refit due for completion by 2014.

A Navy spokesman said:

''This will ensure that the UK retains the ability to deliver an amphibious intervention force from the sea and maintain an experienced crew to support the later introduction into service of the new Queen Elizabeth Class carrier.''

When Ocean returns, Illustrious will be withdrawn from service following the exit of its sister ships Invincible and Ark Royal.

Invincible was towed away earlier this year to a scrapyard in Turkey after being sold on Ministry of Defence auction website

The same website is currently being used to sell Ark Royal which was decommissioned earlier this year after being axed in last year's Strategic Defence and Security Review.

The first of the new super carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth, is due to enter into service in 2020 with the second, HMS Prince of Wales, expected to be kept in a state of extended readiness.

The work carried out on Illustrious involved applying 540,000 litres of paint to the ship.

This included a fuel efficient outer hull coating that will save tonnes of fuel and CO2 emissions.

Other upgrades included the installation of a new computer and communications system and a defensive anti-torpedo system and improvements to the living conditions for the crew and any embarked troops.

Having already completed one week of initial sea safety training and preliminary sea trials, the Portsmouth-based ship will now undergo a further five weeks of sea trials before returning to the fleet at the end of July.

Illustrious is the second of three Invincible-class light aircraft carriers built for the Royal Navy in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The other two were Ark Royal and Invincible.

It is the fifth warship and second aircraft carrier to bear the name Illustrious.

The Navy spokesman said:

''Illustrious has participated in most major UK and Nato campaigns during the past 15 years, including the first Gulf War, the Sierra Leone evacuations and the war in Afghanistan in 2001.''