One of the last official duties carried out by the Queen Mother was to re-commission the Royal Navy aircraft carrier, HMS Ark Royal on November 22 last year and the carrier will be making her first port of call after an extensive re-fit in Palma in June. The Queen Mother launched the navy's fifth HMS Ark Royal in 1978 and was the carrier's patron. The Queen Mother was a regular visitor to the navy in Portsmouth and the navy holds a very special place for her majesty in its heart. The commanding officer Captain David Snelson RN and members of the crew of HMS Illustrious, currently the fleet's flag ship, were part of the armed forces contingent at the Queen Mother's funeral yesterday. HMS Ark Royal's visit to Palma in June will be a very important one as it will be her first since coming out of an extensive two-and-a-half year refit in Rosyth, Scotland. She has in fact been out of active duty for six years. The last time the carrier visited Palma, it was her last port of call before being decommissioned. HMS Ark Royal is the first of the navy's carriers to have been completely refitted and modified to operate the new Merlin helicopters, which she will have on board when she calls into Palma. Since November 26, she has been carrying out sea trials and put the new Merlin helicopters through their paces. The trials required a Merlin to make approaches and landings to the ship in a variety of different test conditions, varying primarily the weight of the aircraft and the speed and direction of the wind. The trials also test the limits required for a variety of deck motions and sea states. Trials were carried out using a Merlin MK 1, specially fitted for the trials and carrying more than £1 million of test instrumentation. It has flown for more than 320 hours in this role and has been used to carry out previous SHOL trials on Type 23 Frigates and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship Argus. Stringent weather conditions were required for the trials. To meet these, HMS Ark Royal has been operating up to 800 miles from mainland UK in the North Atlantic. A close liaison between the trials team and the ship's Meteorological Department and Navigator was required to track and meet the required weather conditions. The results of the trials will now form the basis for all future operations by the Merlin helicopter on HMS Ark Royal and her sister ships. HMS Ark Royal is now preparing for a deployment to the Mediterranean to take part in the “Dynamic Mix” European naval exercise, ahead of which she will visit Majorca. One of her sister ships, HMS Illustrious only visited Palma last month. Her liason officer, Simon Jones, back in Majorca on leave, said yesterday that their reception when they got home to Portsmouth after their seven-month deployment in the Persian Gulf “was incredible and emotional. Southsea beach was awash with Union Jacks, there were thousands of people, bands playing, scenes of which have not been seen since the Falklands War.” He said that the death of the Queen Mother is a “huge loss to the Royal Navy. She had a great affinity for the Ark Royal, she was the last of the old royals - she was very special for the navy being the senior service.”

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