The Royal Navy helicopter carrier Illustrious steams alongside HMS Ocean in a ceremonial passing of the responsibility for protecting the United Kingdom's interests. Illustrious then made her final entry into Portsmouth naval base, ending a 32-year career with the fleet. (UK Royal Navy)
LONDON — Illustrious, the second most famous commissioned warship in the Royal Navy, returned to Portsmouth naval base for the last time July 21, marking the end of a 32-year career for the helicopter carrier.
Having handed over duties as the Navy’s helicopter carrier to Ocean, the 22,000-ton Illustrious, affectionately known as Lusty, is scheduled to be officially decommissioned by the end of the year.
The carrier has clocked almost 890,000 miles and seen service in the Falkland Islands, Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Iraq and elsewhere. Her final public role was to play a part in the naming ceremony of the Royal Navy’s new 65,000-ton carrier Queen Elizabeth on July 4.
Unlike the other two Invincible-class carriers, which ended their days in the breaker’s yard, Lusty may have a more dignified future. The Ministry of Defence has invited tenders to turn the warship into a museum.
The ship was launched in 1978, the second of the three light carriers built to deploy BAE Systems Sea Harrier jets and helicopters.
Britain axed its fleet of Harriers in the 2010 strategic defence and security review, controversially leaving the Royal Navy without a fast jet capability — a gap that will only be filled in 2020 when the carrier Queen Elizabeth is scheduled to become operational, deploying F-35 Lightening II jets.
Illustrious underwent a refit to take over the task as the Royal Navy’s helicopter carrier when Ocean underwent a £65 million (US $million) refit.
In Royal Navy fleet fame, Illustrious is second only to HMS Victory, the 104-gun flagship of Lord Nelson during the Battle of Trafalgar, which despite being launched in 1765 is still in commission as the First Sea Lord’s flagship. ■