When the helicopter approaches the ship after a half an hour ride the Illustrious looks like a small dot. Soon the bridge and the ramp of the 26-year old carrier is visible.
HMS Illustrious was set at sea 1982 and during Loyal Arrow the crew counts to 800 persons. She is 210 meters long and has nine decks aside the tower witch adds an extra four decks.
A range of capabilities
On the bridge captain Ben Key watches the flightdeck where four Harriers just took off in the first exercisewave.
“Navies are used to train with each other around the world, says captain Ben Key.”
“For us now supporting an air exercise allows us to test the whole range of other capabilities. Bringing the Harriers here is our main output. But because of the range of facilities available ashore this exercise allows both the aircrew and the ship to test a whole range of systems and capabilities involved in the delivery of airpower from sea.”
The personnel onboard is both male and female, differently ranked. Their common thing is the volunteer employment in the Royal Navy. The ship cruises in international waters during the visit in Sweden and the crew will not have the possibility to embark at Luleå.
“But we saw some of the Swedish coastline on our way up and it was impressive," commander Jim McLeod says.
He describes the friendly athmosphere onboard as “the spirit of Illustrious”.
Two hours after take off of the Harriers the activity increases. The jets are back and the landing personnel reenters the flighdeck where safety is extensive.
The Harrier comes in and parallels to the flight deck. The aircraft adapts its speed to that of the ship and slowly hovers sideways until it's overhead the flight deck. Then the pilot allows his aircraft to descend slowly for touchdown.
When not at sea, the Harriers are at their home base Royal Air Force Cottesmore.
The responsible landing safety officer Simon Rawlins explains:
“Besides voice communication with the pilot we also use visual signals to communicate with the jets when they are about to launch or land. Two kinds of traffic lights indicate to the pilot when he is cleared for takeoff – the flashing light for rotary and the steady one for fixed wing aircraft.”
Inside the ship a fireexercise is ongoing. Along the corridors the crew is lined up in overalls, attentively listening.
“Fire is our most dangerous enemy aboard, but actually it is rather the smoke that poses the threat," lieutenant Robbie Bailie explained.
Behind at the sick bay works Linda McCollum, a Scottish medical assistent, who is celebrating her two years aboard right at this day.
“It is a stimulation environment. We get up to ten weeks off, but it's not always we want or we just don't have time for all that vacation," she says while showing the emergency room.
“On average we treat up to 100 patients per week," she says.
Mostly broken fingers but also lots of medical treatments are necessary because of seasickness.