Monday, May 23, 2011

Life is breathed back in Lusty

AFTER a £40m revamp, Britain’s only aircraft carrier will return to sea on June 3 to start down the year-long road back to front-line duties.
HMS Illustrious hasn’t been seen at sea since the beginning of 2010 when she sailed to Rosyth for a 16-month refit in the hands of Babcock.
Lusty was due to emerge from her refit as the nation’s strike carrier, taking over from HMS Ark Royal.

Last autumn’s defence review put the kibosh on those plans – and saw Ark axed as well as her Harriers. The review also meant Illustrious’ refit plans had to be re-drawn.
Instead of returning from Rosyth as a Harrier carrier, she’ll return to business as a helicopter assault ship, relieving HMS Ocean.
It took a couple of months following October’s review to incorporate the changes into Lusty’s refit, but since the turn of the year in particular, the ship has been a hive of activity.
When 2011 opened there were just 150 ship’s company (fewer than a quarter of her typical complement) living ashore at nearby HMS Caledonia.
Numbers quickly doubled and, with work sufficiently progressed and ‘domestic functions’ working once more – heating, lighting water, galleys – the sailors moved back on board on February 22  to the sound of pipe and drum.
“At that moment Lusty began to come alive once more,” said Cdr Richard Winter, the carrier’s weapon engineer officer.
Since then the ship’s company has almost doubled in size again – it’s nearly 600-strong now, just 50 or so short of the normal complement – with Capt Jerry Kyd joining as Commanding Officer from Ark Royal.
Work carried out since the revamp began early last year includes super-efficient paint applied to the hull which will mean the 20,000-ton warship will cut through the ocean faster – cutting her fuel bill in the process.
Living quarters have been spruced up, the latest MOD computer system (DII) fitted throughout the ship – no mean task as Illustrious was designed in the pre-personal computer age – 500m (1,640ft) of pipework replaced, plus 650 valves and all eight exhausts.
All well and good, but all that technology and equipment is no good without Jack and Jenny. Lusty’s sailors have been conducting extensive training: fire and flood, duty watches, firearms, personal protection, engineering trials, machinery brought back to life, the ops room, flight deck and hangar restored to normal.
At the same time Illustrious’ soul has been revived by personalising mess spaces, sporting activities, morning prayers and Sunday services, and the daily rituals of Colours and Sunset.
More than 200 Sea Cadets (including 71 in one go) have toured the carrier, as well as local VIPs and school children.
“The message from everyone aboard HMS Illustrious is clear – despite what you may read or hear: Lusty is on her way back to the Fleet,” said Cdr Winter.
“A nearly-600-strong ship’s company is working extremely hard to ensure that Illustrious sails from Rosyth on June 3rd for sea trials before rejoining the Fleet at the end of July.
“No doubt many people will be pleased to see Lusty back in her home port, proud and ready to serve the nation once again.”
After the initial period of trials and return to the Solent, Illustrious will be alongside until the autumn when rigorous trials and training begin in earnest.
She’s due to take over from Ocean as the nation’s on-call helicopter carrier from the summer of 2012.


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