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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 January 2003, 08:16 GMT
Fact File: HMS Ark Royal
Ark Royal

The Royal Navy's aircraft carrier, HMS Ark Royal, is the fifth vessel to bear the distinguished name.

It is normally the flagship of the fleet, but with a re-fit underway that duty has been handed over to HMS Illustrious.

The first Ark Royal, a 38-gun ship built for Sir Walter Raleigh, saw action against the Spanish Armada in 1588.

The most recent incarnation of this proud family is well equipped for modern warfare.

Able to operate the Navy's latest Merlin helicopters as well as Harrier jump jets, the 20,000-ton carrier can also cruise at more than 30 knots.

A central part of the Navy's strength, the ship is both a mobile airfield and a command and control base.

Inside HMS Ark Royal

Her 686 crew work alongside 366 airmen and women to keep the vessel and her aircraft running.

She can carry Sea Harrier FA2 jump jets capable of air defence or ground attack and RAF Harrier GR7 surface attack planes.

The carrier's flight deck can also take the new Merlin anti-submarine helicopters.

Ark Royal received a new main mast and fresh combat systems in a two-year refit, completed in autumn 2001, at Rosyth in Dunfermline.

At 210 metres (683 feet) long, Ark Royal is larger than her sister ships Illustrious and Invincible, and also has a steeper flight ramp to assist take-offs.

But she is just as versatile, able to operate almost anywhere in the world.

Aircraft carriers are key to modern defence strategy, allowing for early reconnaissance, the landing of special forces and land attack from the air.

Built in 1978, Ark Royal was launched by the Queen Mother, who remained the ship's patron.

Proud heritage

It was the fourth Royal Navy ship to bear the distinguished name in the 20th Century.

The second Ark Royal saw service in the First World War, while the third played a distinguished role in World War II.

It launched the torpedo plane attack which crippled the Bismarck, but the British carrier was later sunk returning from Malta in 1941.

The fourth Ark Royal - commissioned in 1955 - was the first Royal Navy carrier to feature all the developments enabling jet operations, including an angled deck, steam catapult and a mirror landing aid.

The current vessel entered service in 1985 and played a key role in the Balkans conflict in the early 1990s, mainly based in the Adriatic.

Invincible Class Aircraft Carrier
Crew: 1089
Main weapons: Sea King helicopters, anti-sub helicopters, Phalanx anti-missile system, Goalkeeper defence system, 20mm close-range guns
Length: 210m (683ft)
Maximum beam: 36m (117ft)
Displacement: 20,000 tonnes
Power: 4 Olympus gas turbines
Source: Royal Navy







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