On 28 August the Royal Navy decommissioned the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious. The 20,000-ton, 689-foot ship was the final survivor of three British Invincible-class vertical/short takeoff-and-landing carriers ordered in the mid-1970s to operate helicopters and Harrier “jump jets” primarily in the antisubmarine-warfare role. The Illustrious entered the fleet in 1982, having been rushed into service for action in the Falklands War. Though arriving after hostilities had concluded, she relieved sister HMS Invincible and continued playing an important role through the remainder of the Cold War and into the 21st century. After her Sea Harrier fighters were retired, the Illustrious was converted into a helicopter- and commando-assault ship while sisters HMS Invincible and Ark Royal were retired in 2011. Although the assault-ship role is now being taken up by HMS Ocean, the Invincible class won’t truly be replaced until the two 65,000-ton Queen Elizabeth–class aircraft carriers enter service in the next decade.
By Eric Wertheim