How to Drive an Aircraft Carrier

October 2021

In this, the first of several episodes on the maritime history of airpower, Dr Sam Willis meets three Royal Naval flag officers to discuss the complexities and challenges of commanding and operating aircraft carriers. Sam’s guests are Vice Admiral Jerry Kydd, the current Fleet Commander of the Royal Navy, who served as the very first commanding officer of the new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, launched in 2014 and the largest and most powerful vessel ever constructed for the Royal Navy; Rear Admiral David Snelson, who served in the Royal Navy between 1969 to 2006 on both Ark Royal 4 and Ark Royal 5, and was the Commander Maritime

Forces and Task Group Commander for Royal Naval forces in the second Gulf War of 2003; and Rear Admiral Roy Clare who commanded HMS Invincible 25 years ago, seeing operations in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Arabian Sea and The Gulf, with Fleet Air Arm and Royal Air Force squadrons embarked. They discuss a commander’s responsibilities with regard to aviation and airspace; the thorny issues of logistics, and how to manage fuel, food and spare parts; the formidable challenges of engineering both in terms of air engineering and weapons engineering, including radars, radios and satellite comms; the challenge of commanding people, of training and handing on skills; and the issues of Task Group command – how does a carrier fit into a Task Group? Does the captain of a carrier also act as the Commander of a task Group?

These remarkable insights from the recent (and sometimes very recent) past help us understand the development and use of carriers and airpower from its inception in the first quarter of the twentieth century until today.

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