The UK's current aircraft carriers are the Invincible Class, which is made up of three ships; HMS Ark Royal, HMS Illustrious and HMS Invincible. All three ships entered service between the late 1970s and early 1980s, with each proving themselves to be extremely capable and highly flexible ships able to change roles from carrying fast jets to an amphibious role within days (as was proven during the early days of operations in Afghanistan) and a vital part of the Royal Navy fleet.
HMS Ark Royal
The current UK flagship was built in the late 1970s by Swan Hunter on Tyneside. She was launched in 1981 and commissioned into service in 1985. HMS Ark Royal is slightly larger than her two sister ships at over 211 metres long.
The first Ark Royal was built for Sir Walter Raleigh and was involved in the Spanish Armada. Since then a further four ships, including the current flagship have taken the name.
HMS Ark Royal is currently operating in her primary carrier strike role but her service history has taken her around the world in a variety of other roles, including leading the naval forces in her amphibious role during Operation Telic in 2003.
HMS Illustrious, or Lusty as she is fondly known in the Royal Navy, is the second aircraft carrier in the Invincible Class. The ship is 209 metres long and weighs 22,000 tonnes at full displacement.
Like HMS Ark Royal, HMS Illustrious is the fifth ship to bear her name. The first, a 74 gun third rate ship of the line was launched in 1789 and during her time in service saw action against the French. It wasn't't until the fourth HMS Illustrious that the name was given to an aircraft carrier. Commissioned in 1940, the fourth HMS Illustrious took part in the defence of the Malta convoys during World War II and also supported the US landings at Okinawa.
The current HMS Illustrious is also no stranger to major operations and has been involved in many major UK and NATO campaigns including the Falklands War, the first Gulf War, operations in Sierra Leone and Lebanon and the war in Afghanistan.
HMS Invincible is the sixth ship of this name. The first, a 74 gun French ship named L'Invincible, was commissioned into the Royal Navy after being captured in 1747.
Other ‘Invincibles' including a battle cruiser followed, but the current HMS Invincible is the first Anti-Submarine Warfare Carrier.
Built in Barrow-in-Furness and launched in 1977, she saw action in the Falklands War during the 1980s and went on to play a significant role during the Bosnian conflict.