Sunday, December 15th, 2019

Bid to Save Illustrious from the Scrapheap

Published on February 4, 2014 by   ·   No Comments

Believe it or not, sometime in 2014 Great Britain will be rendered aircraft carrier-less.  This year HMS Illustrious, the last of the three Invincible-class carriers (not so invincible now eh?), will retire from active duty with the Royal Navy and could become scrap unless someone steps forward to ensure its preservation.  Illustrious’ sister ships, Ark Royal and Invincible, have already met their scrap fate.  Britain then faces an aircraft carrier void until the new generation vessels – HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales are ready for action.


65,000 tonne HMS Queen Elizabeth is currently being put together in a shipyard in Fife and is set to become the fourth largest carrier on the planet.  She will be technologically advanced (the delivery of bombs, bullets and missiles to aircraft is done by machinery, not man), host 40 aircraft and, although twice the size of Illustrious, will need just 679 crew – only two dozen more than her predecessor.  (They will be given a mobile phone app to help them find their way around.)  HMS Queen Elizabeth’s first sea trials are scheduled for 2017, flight trials in 2018 and actual active service by 2020 – HMS Prince of Wales will follow soon after.


So, what of HMS Illustrious?  The military is currently seeking a buyer and will take bids from private companies, charities and trusts.  She is ageing and battle worn but much-loved; a great symbol of Britain having been pivotal to operations in the Gulf War and Sierra Leone and most recently delivering humanitarian relief to the Philippines following the devastating Typhoon Haiyan.  To become successful in a bid to own her, the buyer must keep all ‘or part’ of HMS Illustrious in Britain – there’s no clarification for how big a ‘part’ is.

Independent design consultancy BMT Nigel Gee (BMT), in partnership with Sigmund Yacht Design, has conceived a bold concept to redevelop HMS Illustrious into a ‘Commonwealth Yacht’.


James Roy, Yacht Design Director at BMT Nigel Gee, a subsidiary of BMT Group, explains: “In recognising the importance of preserving such an iconic vessel, we came up with the idea of a ‘Commonwealth Yacht’ where Illustrious could serve all nations of the Commonwealth as a vehicle for promoting trade, attending international events and undertaking humanitarian and disaster relief work around the globe.”

Commissioned in 1982, HMS Illustrious is typical of the Invincible class in that she is characterised by a ski-jump flight deck ramp – a feature which helps aircraft take off from a relatively short runway.  This has been kept and integrated into BMT’s design.  Meanwhile the sails of clipper ships have provided inspiration for a trio of striking on-deck formations.  She looks very elegant and purposeful, a powerful outline that presents an iconic design and makes the ‘new’ HMS Illustrious an instantly recognisable presence wherever she travels.

Peter Symonds, Owner of Sigmund Yacht Design comments, “Our design is a brave interpretation of such a distinguished vessel, stating boldly its new purpose, whilst paying respect to its impressive heritage.   The design concept provides an opportunity to extend the life of the vessel well into the foreseeable future with innovation, creativity and an eye for detail.”

Even if BMT’s concept remains exactly that, a concept, let’s hope that this treasured part of British naval history doesn’t end up on the scrapheap.

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