Malta International Airshow 2005 Review
Saturday 24th September - Sunday 25th September
Do you want to see all your favourite air show acts at a relaxed and friendly venue? Do you want to escape relentless commercialism and the plague of bouncy castles? Do you want to see some interesting and rare aircraft not usually seen at airshows on these shores? Do you want to top-up your tan? And best of all... Do you want to avoid the worry about what the weather gods will throw at you? Okay! Enough of these questions! The answer is to make the long trip to the George Cross island of Malta in the super blue Mediterranean.
samples some island life at the Malta International Airshow. All photography by the author.
The rapid growth of low cost airlines in recent years has made trips to foreign shows like Malta possible, so with a little forward planning and effort you can get to see something really different from the normal run of the mill air show fair.
Malta airport is the former RAF Luqa (the only active airfield on the island) with the new airport terminal at one end of the 11627ft main runway and the air show venue at the other (in fact I bet most of the passengers in the terminal would have had no idea that a major air show was in progress, such is the large size of the airfield) Most of the air show acts used the second 7799ft 06/24 cross runway.
Evidence of the RAFs occupancy was all around with former squadron line buildings covered with squadron crests and names of personal from the 'V' force era and earlier carved into the soft stone walls.
The Malta International Air show (now in its 13th consecutive year) is organised by volunteers from the Malta Aviation Society. Entry is excellent value at only 4.50 Maltese Lira (about 7 pounds). A really refreshing change was the complete absence of the usual air show detritus like funfairs, bouncy castles and stalls selling the 'tat' that usually frequents so many UK shows. There were just two food outlets, one stall from the Malta Aviation Society selling their superb programme and aircraft checklist, one stall from the local model shop and one chap selling the biggest step ladders I have ever seen! And that was just about it!
The static display was dominated by a B-1B Lancer from the 7th bomb wing from Dyess AFB. The second of the pair of Lancers was down to fly in the display, this was the first time ever that a USAF aircraft was to fly in the Malta show and was a major coup for the organisers. More of this later.
Impressive that the B-1B is, my first love has always been Mr McDonnell's masterpiece, the F-4 Phantom II, and a pedigree example was on show at Luqa, the beautiful specially-marked F-4E from 337 Mira of the Greek Air Force, looking superb in the Maltese sun, the Phantom certainly got the photographers shutter fingers into overdrive. This was the first time that the Greek AF had ever participated in the show.
The closeness of the Italian main land always draws some exotic aircraft from the many branches of the Italian Armed Forces and Para-Military, although the local enthusiasts said that numbers were down this year, the Italians still made up most of the static display along with the British forces. Unfortunately no Italian Air Force fast jets made the trip. The Italian contingent consisted of A109, AB412, ATR 42 and P.166 from the Guardia di Finanzia. Another A109 from the Polizia, from the Italian Air Force came the shark mouthed P.166 that you may have seen at RIAT this year plus a P.180 Avanti. The Italian Navy chipped in with a pair of SH-3D Sea Kings.
Fans of helicopters were also well catered for by the US Navy who brought along a SH-60B Seahawk from HLS-42 operating from the USS Hawes (FFG 53).
At one end of the apron a small encampment signalled the end of a lot of hard work for the Merlins over Malta team. The project to return a Hurricane and Spitfire to the island for the first time in over 60 years had taken over two years of hard fund raising culminating in an epic 10 hour flight via Jersey, France and Italy arriving on the George Cross Island on the 22nd of September at 18:00 sharp.
The Hurricane and Spitfire both belong to the Historic Aircraft Collection based at Duxford. Both aeroplanes took on paint schemes that were worn by fighters based on Malta during the siege. Hurricane XII 'Z5140' (G-HURI) was repainted into the colours of a 126 Sqn Mk IIB coded HA-C that was flown off HMS Ark Royal in 1941, during maintenance in 2004. Spitfire Vb BM597 (G-MKVB) was repainted from its normal green and brown 317 Sqn scheme into a wonderful blue scheme that was totally unique to the Maltese campaign. For the duration of the Merlins over Malta project BM597 was to represent a Spitfire V of 603 Sqn (coded U-2) that was launched from the US Navy aircraft carrier, USS Wasp.
When the Wasp was loaded with Spitfires they were in the normal standard European green and brown camouflage, this provided no protection on the deck of an aircraft carrier sailing through the Mediterranean sea, so US Navy aircraft blue paint from the Wasps stores was mixed up, thinned down and roughly applied to provide some temporary camouflage on deck and for the transit flight to Malta.
As the blue paint was thinned and mixed with other paint to ensure that it covered all the Spitfires on the USS Wasp at the time, no definite colour match could be obtained. This paint scheme has not been seen on a Spitfire since the war ended. After displaying at the show the Hurricane and Spitfire performed a couple of flypasts (one with the Red Arrows) before heading home to Duxford following the same route. Playing the 'bad guys' was a Me108 (Nord 1002) that was also flown from the UK to Malta by a team of 3 intrepid aviators. The 3 historic aeroplanes were the first ever piston engined warbirds to participate in the show. Congratulations to both teams on a job well done!
One aircraft I have always wanted to see is the Bombardier CL415 amphibious fire fighting aircraft. Traditionally this is the opening act in the flying display; this particular example was from the Italian Protezione Civile. After filling its water tanks with Mediterranean sea water off the coast, its role demo of low level water drops (leaving a distinctly 'fishy' aroma in the air) and true turn-on-a-sixpence manoeuvrability was truly excellent. I really think that the pilot was loving every minute of his display and didn't want to stop! If you missed it the first time round don't worry, he did it all again later in the afternoon! I would love to see a CL415 at a British show; I wonder what this pilot would make of Old Warden!
A sad occasion was the last ever display by a 41(F) Sqn Jaguar GR3. It is hard to believe that the time is nearly up for the big cat. Full marks to the 41(F) Sqn team, after a very late flight out to Malta from Stanstead and serviceability problems with one of the Jaguars, the team still had time to talk with the air show crowd, nice one chaps!
After a break for lunch, events took on a familiar look with all the usual European air show suspects (except for another soaking by the CL415) like the RAF's Hawk T1 and Harrier GR.7A flying their routines. The spare Harrier from 20(R) Sqn did look a touch out of place, as it was still sporting some traces of arctic camouflage. Another item that really stood out was the RAF's Tornado F3; on their last display outing of the year, the crew from 56 Sqn put in a really polished performance using the clear blue sky to maximum effect with the noise from the two RB199 turbofans increasing as it bounced off the stone walls that surround the airfield.
If like me your collection of photos is a bit short of stuff from the Armed Forces of Malta, the opportunity to top-up was taken with both hands, displays from the Islander, a pair of ex-RAF Bulldog T1s and a full role demo from a Allouette III, just a shame that the AFM's Bell 47 did not fly.
Time for the noise levels to increase a notch or two, time for the B-1B! Using the main runway, I wonder what the passengers waiting in the airport terminal made of the sight of a nuclear bomber blasting past the airport windows? Now I have being a bit dismissive of B-1 displays in the past, not any more! 3 passes were made with large tours of the Mediterranean in-between. First pass, dirty pass with gear and flaps hanging down. Second Pass, fast and low with a slight wing down followed by rapid climb out with a roll off the top. Last pass, fast and low again! Super stuff! Hope the USAF send this crew to Fairford next year!
In the last segment of the show two of the worlds hottest fast-jet displays came head-to-head, with the Dutch Air Force F-16AM Fighting Falcon followed by the French Air Force Mirages 2000C both trying to out do each other. Result, score draw!
The Red Arrows closed the show as only the Reds can and that was it! If you want to end your air show season with a little sunshine then I really recommend that you give Malta a try, you wont regret it.