Malta International Air Show 28/29 September
Gill Howie from Squadron Prints reports on what is becoming an annual pilgrimage. Additional photography by Berry Vissers and Mark McEwan.
As a finale to the season, we here at Squadron Prints always try to do the Malta Air Show - it's only a three to four hour flight (www.airmalta.com) from many local airports in the UK. There are plenty of nice hotels (see any holiday brochure!) or flats there (firstname.lastname@example.org - Frank will find you anything that you want!) so that you can have a great holiday too - we chose to book a flat over looking the harbour at Sleima and from there could still see the approach to Luqa airport in the distance.
Malta, although a small island, is steeped in history with many museums and stories but this year's event was perhaps a bit more poignant as it was the 60th anniversary of Malta being awarded the George Cross for its valiant efforts during World War II - the medal itself and the citation was on display at the airshow for all to see.
The build up of the event began on the Wednesday when some of the international participants flew in - the Dutch Demo Team being the first as always - any excuse for a free couple of days away from home! There were lots of movements from the Royal Navy due to the fact that both HMS Ark Royal and HMS Southampton were in the area, eventually arriving in port on the Thursday. Both were berthed in Grand Harbour and drew thousands of people to the gardens above the harbour to view the 800 Squadron Sea Harriers and 849 Squadron Sea Kings on deck and the most amazing cruise ships alongside. There was a constant buzz of activity with Sea Kings, Jetstreams and even a Merlin flying around picking up and dropping of people.
Thursday and Friday saw the whole event taking shape with many practising and perfecting their now perfect routines - or at least they should be by now, after a year of shows! Last year Malta suffered due to the atrocities of 9/11 but this year, being its 10th Anniversary, the organisers pulled out all the stops to make it something to remember - and what an event it was. They had increased the size of the static park and made another area out to the north, and although the two areas were quite a distance from each other they also provided more crowd line space. Saturday's show drew a good crowd but Sunday resulted in a packed house as all Maltese people are off for the day. Roads were blocked all around the airfield by those who didn't want to pay to enter the show, but wanted to see the Red Arrows - they did a magnificent display for the Maltese at the airport, but also saluted the people of Malta and the veterans down at the harbour - from the airfield we could see the diamond-nine flypast of the island's capital, Valetta, and HMS Ark Royal berthed below.
This is a truly different airshow by UK standards - two food stalls and only the Malta Aviation Society selling some stickers and programmes, a small stall with photographs from the museum (which has some great exhibits and if in Malta you must go) and finally there was also the local flying clubs and model clubs. So, if you intend going to shop around the stalls, this is not the place for you, but for an entry fee of 3.50 LM (About £5) the public was well entertained at this special anniversary show. For enthusiasts, there was special package covering the whole weekend including arrivals, departures and a tour of the live side for around 75 Euros - a four-day package for around £50 - great value I feel, considering the prices some other shows charge!
static attracts a variety of goodies, especially from the Italians,
and my favourites were the Dornier 228 of the
Italian Army, the Partenavia P.68 Observer
from the Italian Police, although I must admit that the Airbus 318 demonstrator
was a very colourful addition to the old, original static park. The "new"
static park boasted all the assets of the Maltese
Air Force, plus the healthy RAF and RN contingent including Canberra
PR9 and the specially marked Tornado GR4A from
II(AC) Squadron - both based at RAF Marham in Norfolk.
On the Friday evening an event took place that, to me, would have been a huge attraction for both main days of the show. Captain Richard 'Tomba' Bujis is well known for flying his black and silver F-16AM around the world, his jet now a 'classical beauty' in my eyes, and many others no doubt. Many do not know that he is a huge Ferrari enthusiast too, and had made many friends in the Ferrari Club of Malta during his last trip here in 2001. Early in the evening his F-16 started up for the second time that day and he taxied out to the main runway - suddenly a beautiful bright yellow Ferrari appeared on the parallel taxiway - they were going to race! Naturally the F-16 won and impressed the small crowd of Ferrari enthusiasts that were there, but for me it was highly amusing to see the shortest F-16 flight I have ever witnessed. Full-burner take-off then downwind to land - I wondered what this 'stunt' had cost as a comparison - fuel for the Ferrari versus fuel for the F-16! It was nice to see the posters advertising it all around the island - just a pity that the enthusiastic Ferrari supporters in Malta attending the airshow on Saturday had not been able to see it, as only those attending on Sunday were able to do so.
At least on both days of the show the 'Classical Beauty' was thrown about the silky skies by the now infamous 'Tomba', the crowds watching as he climbed higher and higher, only then to spiral down cascading flares like a ratty 'viper' spitting venom! Better not tell the taxpayers in Holland about the Ferrari 'race' however, judging by the stickers plastered all over the aircraft at Kemble (Orange) and here in Malta (Vodaphone) - maybe the RNLAF is being sponsored by mobile phone companies in the future? Is it something we have to expect in the future that the Royal Air Force too will be covered in company logos? I cannot really imagine it being allowed to happen here and I certainly hope not. Tomba's display was good, but it was really nice to see another F-16 display - that of the Danish. Although in a standard F-16, the pilot put on a spirited display and it is always nice to see something different, especially when there are so many F-16 displays and throughout the year - so far I have been lucky to see US, Belgian and Norwegian displays.
The CL-415 Water Bomber display was outstanding - a real show-stopper again and the Maltese Armed Forces gave their own special fly-by with three Bulldogs and an Islander flying in a George Cross Formation. Sadly our own BBMF Spitfire was not able to attend and take part in the celebrations but the Red Arrows certainly made up for it, flying on both days. There were several helicopters taking part but the French Air Force Panther and the Merlin of 28(AC) Squadron gave outstanding displays, as did the Alouettes at their home base. The Royal Air Force and Royal Navy displays were excellent, with Mike Hayes of 16(R) Squadron performing in front of many of his Maltese family. It was nice to see two Royal Navy Jetstreams performing together in a unique display. All told there were five Jetstream aircraft there, primarily supporting the fleet that were in the harbour but also in recognition of the reunions and celebrations that were taking place on this small but heroic island.
Malta is marvellous and if your other half is looking to go on holiday - try Malta around the end of September - friendly people, sunshine and even an airshow! GO, you will not regret it!