HMS Illustrious (R06)

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Career RN Ensign
Ordered: 14 May 1976
Laid down: 7 October 1976
Launched: 1 December 1981
Commissioned: 20 June 1982
Fate: Template:Active in service
General Characteristics
Displacement: 20,600 tons
Length: 210 metres
Beam: 36 metres
Draught: 7.5 metres
Propulsion: Four Rolls-Royce Olympus TM3B gas turbines, 2 Shafts, 72 MW
Speed: 28 knots
Range: 5,000 miles at 18 knots (8,000 km at 33 km/h)
Complement: 685 crew, 366 Fleet Air Arm
Armament: Three Phalanx/ Goalkeeper; two 20mm close-range guns
Aircraft: Sea Harrier FA.2 fighter/bombers, Harrier GR.7, Sea King helicopters, and Merlin aircraft.
Motto: Vox Non Incerta

The fifth HMS Illustrious (R06) is an Invincible-class aircraft carrier of the Royal Navy, affectionately known as 'Lusty' to her crew.

She was was laid down at Swan Hunter on the Tyne in 1976, and launched in 1981. As the ship neared the end of its fitting out period, the Falklands War broke out. As a consequence, work on Illustrious was greatly speeded up. The war was won before Illustrious could be finished, but she did perform a useful service in the aftermath. Until the RAF airfield on the Falklands was repaired, an aircraft carrier was required on station to protect the area from possible Argentine attack. HMS Invincible had been on station for many months when Illustrious steamed to its relief. However, Illustrious was needed so quickly that the ship was actually commissioned underway. After the RAF airfield was repaired, Illustrious returned to the UK for a more proper shakedown cruise and workup period, with a formal commissioning on 20 March 1983.

The ship saw no further action during the remainder of the decade, but continued to be a valuable asset for the Royal Navy in showing the flag and participating in exercises all around the world. During those years, the ship received several enhancements during refits, including a ski-jump with a steeper angle to enable the Harriers in the airwing to takeoff with a larger payload. During an 'Extended Defect and Maintenance Period', numerous modifications were made to the ship including the removal of her Sea Dart defences at a cost of twelve million pounds. This allowed for extra deck space that enables her to carry upto 22 aircraft, including the Harrier GR.7 and Sea Harrier FA.2.

During the 1990s, the main task of the aircraft carriers of the Royal Navy was helping to maintain the no-fly zone over Bosnia during that war there. All three of the navy's carriers rotated through the area. At the turn of the century, Illustrious entered a refit and emerged with another large change in configuration. The ship's Sea Dart missile system was removed to allow a large flight deck and greater stowage of ordnance for RAF Harriers that were becoming a more regular part of the airwing.

In 2000 she took part in the Operation Palliser the aim of which was to restore peace and stability to Sierra Leone in which she led a naval task force comprising HM ships - Ocean, Argyll, Iron Duke, Chatham and numerous RFA ships.


A notable combat deployment for the ship took place in late 2001. A large British exercise, Saif Sareea II took place in Oman in the autumn of 2001. During the exercise, the World Trade Center was destroyed by Al Qaida. What had been an exercise became a wartime mission. Illustrious remained in theatre while other elements of the task force returned to the United Kingdom to refit. Illustrious had elements of the Royal Marines on board, ready for possible combat operations in Afghanistan. It turned out that no deployment was made before Illustrious was relieved by Ocean in early 2002, but the ship had made a valuable contribution to British options in the conflict, providing a launching point for ground forces, had they been needed.

In mid-2003, the ship entered a further refit at Rosyth. This refit involved the total rebuild of the skijump, the adding of better communications and reconfiguring the ship so that it can be more quickly switched between the light aircraft carrier and helicopter carrier roles. The refit should enable her to carry on until 2012, when it is expected that the first of the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers will come into service. Illustrious returned to Portsmouth following the completition of the refit in December 2004.

See HMS Illustrious for other ships of this name.

Invincible-class aircraft carrier
Invincible | Illustrious | Ark Royal

List of aircraft carriers of the Royal Navy
de:HMS Illustrious

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