News

Helicopters return to Illustrious
5 July 2011

Aircraft have resumed operations from HMS Illustrious' flight deck as the carrier prepares to return to Portsmouth on Thursday.

Picture: LA(Phot) Dean Nixon, HMS Illustrious

IMPRESSIVE as this sight is – Merlin being guided in to land on a carrier flight deck – ordinarily we wouldn’t get too excited.

Except that LA James Batley is guiding in the first aircraft to set down on the deck of HMS Illustrious in more than 18 months – and a small step in the carrier’s long road back to front-line duties.

The Flying Tigers of 814 Naval Air Squadron in Culdrose were joined aboard Lusty 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.