9th Malta International Air Show 22 - 23 September
Gill Howie/Squadron Prints made the trip.
The tragic events of 11 September 2001 will forever be in our thoughts and minds. To see such events unfold before our eyes was unforgettable and the organisers of the airshows that went ahead shortly after these disasters deserve a huge pat on the back for pulling out all the stops to let their events go ahead, albeit somewhat depleted in the participation department. Both Leuchars and Malta were in 'limbo' - in fact, the Malta Committee were in meetings with the various Embassies right up until the last minute! Although much smaller than planned, it was an unusual and varied show with some special attractions to keep the crowds happy.
Arrivals day at Luqa International Airport was dull and overcast but the Malta Aviation Society certainly know how to look after their members - no expensive 'Enthusiast Packages' here - just an annual membership with water and transport provided to the touchdown point at the edge of the runway. All well behaved and courteous and nothing too much trouble, the excitement enhanced by the rumours of three ex-Israeli Skyhawks' impending arrival! Aeroplane-wise the Italians were there in force but it was disappointing that the Saudi Aerobatic Team "The Saudi Hawks" and the Libyans had both cancelled, as had the German stars (painted F-4 and MiG-29) (see our Hopsten report).
Saturday was windy and dusty - into the show early for my first glimpse of the A-4s! There was a small flying display in the morning, a break for lunch and more flying in the afternoon. Relax and enjoy was the order of the day but the heat and humidity was a bit overpowering for a pale-faced Scot like me and the wind curtailed some of the flying. The first display was from a Banner towing PZL Wilga, moving on to the 'Crash combine' during which I was delighted to see the Alouette III flying low following all the crash vehicles - not something that I would normally watch but highly impressive nevertheless. My one complaint was that all the flying display aircraft were parked over the other side and not visible until they taxied past the crowd line! Only a minor complaint though. A major disappointment befell the Dutch F-16 - Richard "Tomba" Buijs taxied out being filmed for a forthcoming CD-ROM/video, the sun shining down on the beautiful Black and White "Teamwork" F-16 as it passed the crowds. Their enthusiasm for this aircraft was obvious. In his own inimitable way he took off into his display but it was obvious that there was something wrong - he had suffered a generator failure, so in trouble he headed off towards the sea away from the crowd in case the F-16 became uncontrollable. Thankfully he brought the aircraft back in to land safely and into the hands of his dedicated ground crew who were gutted that their aircraft had not been able to display.
Sunday brought better weather and more heat. One minute it was a low cloud-base and the next it was suitable to fly - for me personally I was delighted to see "Tomba" fly the spare F-16, and a great display it was too. I was also a little sad to watch Paul "Binnsy" Binns fly his last display in the RAF Jaguar GR3. The Harrier from 20(R) Squadron is always a show-stopper but the French Navy Panther was another unusual one to watch. The highlight though just HAD to be the CL415 of the Protezione Civile who made many passes and dropped gallons and gallons of water, the spray cooling everyone down. This guy obviously liked displaying his aircraft as he kept coming back and dropping more water - terrific to see.
The static paraded several different types, my favourites being the Bell 412 and the ATR400MP of the Guardia di Finanza, but the most poignant sight was the area where the American participants should have been - it had been left empty but still cordoned off and in the centre stood a lonely "Stars and Stripes" at half-mast, protected by two Tornado GR4s from 31 Squadron at Marham and a 43(F) Squadron F3 from Leuchars on one side and two Dutch F-16BMs from 323 and 322 Squadrons on the other.
Monday saw the members of Malta Aviation Society again being able to take advantage of some excellent areas to take photographs of the departing aircraft - it was non-stop and with the sun shining brightly a delightful morning - no hassle and NO CHARGE!!!!!
The A-4s left on Tuesday en-route to Phoenix in Arizona with stops in Nice, Shannon and Keflavik, then who-knows-where but I was so lucky to be escorted over to watch them depart - the sound of these aircraft was just amazing. The aircrew were even more amazing - one guy was 58 years old and worked for an international aviation company but had taken time off especially to do this trip - he had thousands of hours on A-4s, A-7s and F-18s - what a character. One of the others had many hours on F-16s and was a commercial pilot. The groundcrew were flown in from Israel to fix any problems but they were from New Zealand, quite international really!
I would highly recommend a visit to Malta and the International Air Show - even with the cancellations I am delighted that I went and it was great to see so many unusual aircraft. Thanks to all involved with the show and to Richard Caruana for arranging things for me.