The pride of the Royal Navy, the aircraft carrier Illustrious, will be sailing into Palma on March 16 for a brief courtesy visit and to give her crew some rest after seven months away from home. Her visit to Palma is expected to last three days before she sails home to Portsmouth. The carrier was the flagship of Britain's naval contribution to the war in Afghanistan. She sailed from her home-port of Portsmouth before the September 11 attacks to take part in exercises with the Omani Navy. It was the Royal Navy's biggest deployment since the Falklands war and the Illustrious apart from her compliment of Sea Harriers was also equipped with RAF ground attack aircraft. The Task Force also included the assault helicopter carrier Ocean and the amphibious assault ship, Fearless. Once the exercises with the Omani Navy had been completed the Illustrious moved into the Indian Ocean where she was involved in operations against the Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorists. Her crew spent Christmas in Kenya before the ship returned to her operating area. She is being relieved by the Ocean which two weeks ago was involved in the abortive landing by Royal Marines on a Spanish beach, which they mistook for Gibraltar. The Illustrious is second ship of the three vessel Invincible class. She was commissioned in 1982 and sailed straight away for the South Atlantic to join her sister-ship, Invincible. She arrived just as the war was ending. Since then she has undergone numerous refits and her armament has been enhanced. When her full air group is embarked (of about 25 aircraft and helicopters), she has a crew of 1'500 officers and men. She is commandered by Captain A. Massey who joined the Royal Navy in 1977. The present HMS Illustrious is the fifth ship to bear that name. The first HMS Illustrious, a thirdrate 74gun frigate, was launched at Buckler's Hard in 1789 and saw action against the French off Toulon in 1793 and at Genoa in 1795. The second HMS Illustrious was also a 74gun frigate. The third HMS Illustrious was launched in 1896. A battleship with 12 and 6 inch guns, she was already obsolete by 1914 and spent most of the Great War as an ammunition store ship. The fourth Illustrious was one of the most distinguished ships of World War 2. She was the first of a new class of Aircraft Carrier and was commissioned in 1940.