The reason why British aircraft carriers have two islands

Ultimately, the British developed a simple but ingenious approach: two separate islands with independent exhaust and air intake systems. The two smaller islands have several advantages over one large island, including less wind turbulence.

The two islands have a smaller combined footprint than one large island, which saves flight deck space and allows each unit to be built entirely off-site. Finally, powerful radar systems can be installed on each island, reducing interference that would be present if the radars were installed close together in a common space.

If there are any drawbacks to this design, it is that navigation is usually handled from the fore island, and aircraft are operated from the aft island. Since a combined effort between the two is often required during missions, communication that was once personal is now made through a heavy reliance on intercom. Some carrier enthusiasts see the two islands as detracting from the carrier’s good looks, but that may just be a matter of getting used to.

To date, two Queen Elizabeth-class carriers are using this innovative approach. The flagship, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, were commissioned in 2017 and 2019, respectively. Besides the twin islands, other crew facilities include a cinema, five exercise gyms, and four galleys with 27 staff.

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