Master of all I survey

With one word I could have obliterated the old Naval College…

HMS Illustrious (photo: Francis Sedgemore)

This photo was taken from the bridge of the British aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious, during its PR visit to Greenwich over the weekend.

Tours of the ship were open to select local groups, in my case officials of Greenwich Council and their families/companions. It was an interesting experience, and involved clambering up and down ladder-type stairways, taking in the hanger, bridge, operations room and engineering centre. The crew were a friendly and cheerful bunch, and a few of them knew how to speak articulately about their jobs and working environment. That environment is very multicultural, with a relatively high proportion of black ratings and officers, and there are many young women aboard.

The fifth HMS Illustrious (the first was a 74-gun ship of the line launched in 1789) was commissioned in 1982, following which she headed straight for the South Atlantic to relieve HMS Invincible during the Falklands war. Illustrious was refitted a few years ago, and is expected to remain in service until 2012, when she will be replaced by the new HMS Queen Elizabeth (as opposed to the old bat currently resident in London SW1).

I had always imagined aircraft carriers to be absolutely enormous structures, but, up close, the Illustrious did not strike me as being particularly big. In terms of technology, everything seemed very robust, and not particularly modern. The only real high-tech I saw was in the operations room, with its computer terminals displaying radar and other sensor output. I was rather concerned to see some of these computers running Microsoft Windows, but the officer in charge reassured me that this notoriously unstable and insecure operating system is not used for critical systems.

Many thanks to the crew of HMS Illustrious!