HMS Illustrious Returns To Portsmouth

The Royal Navy's last operational fixed-wing aircraft carrier has returned to its home port after completing a £40 million upgrade programme to convert it into a helicopter carrier.

HMS Illustrious, affectionately known as Lusty, was in Rosyth dockyard in Fife for 16 months where it underwent modifications to turn it 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.

About 300 family members of the crew lined the dock at Portsmouth naval base to welcome the ship home on Thursday July the 7th.

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

"It is a great honour and tremendously exciting to bring this famous carrier, HMS Illustrious, back to her home port of Portsmouth.

"My magnificent crew have worked for many months away from family and friends, some for 18 months, and our return today is testament to their characteristic professionalism and commitment.

"The ship was fortunate to have had an excellent engineering refit with Babcock in Rosyth and, yet again, our return to Portsmouth, on time and on budget, shows how the Royal Navy and British industry can work so successfully together to a common purpose.

"We formally rejoin the fleet at the end of this month and I know I speak for all the men and women in Lusty when I say that we are looking forward greatly to meeting whatever challenges the Government sets us in the coming years.''

Illustrious will take over the role currently fulfilled by HMS Ocean when it 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When Ocean returns, Illustrious will be withdrawn from service following the exit of its sister ships Invincible and Ark Royal.

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, a defensive anti-torpedo system and improvements to the living conditions for the crew and any embarked troops.

Illustrious will now undergo further sea trials before returning to the fleet at the end of this month.

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.