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Disappearing Maltesers

John Ratley made it to the Malta International Airshow 2006, unlike most of the participants!

The 2006 Malta International Airshow took place over the weekend of 23/24 September, providing a warm and sunny end to the airshow season. Following last year's sixtieth anniversary 'Merlins over Malta' airshow, this fourteenth edition proved to be a smaller and quieter event, a situation not helped by many cancellations. The last-minute withdrawal of the Croatian display team with their PC-9s prevented the prospect of two national display teams being on show, a big disapointment for the organisers - the cancellation was due to the unavailability of the Croation support aircraft, the An-32, which would have been an attraction in itself.

Maltese treats #2

All was not lost as far as national display teams were concerned, as the Swiss Air Force PC-7 Team was displaying on its nation's first visit to the airshow. It was also a first for the Irish Air Corps, who were on static display with the Casa CN235. Unfamiliar surroundings for the Irish, but made to feel at home with the same aircraft type beside them on the pan from the Spanish Air Force.

The USAF sent a pair of Aviano based F-16s to the static line, the RAF joining them with two 13 Squadron Tornado GR4s from Marham. Added to these was an Alpha Jet from the French Air Force, and from the French Navy a Falcon 10. The Armed Forces of Malta claimed one end of the static park to display their aircraft, while the Italian Guardia di Finanza (customs) and Police were also in attendance. Dominating the static park was a NATO E-3A, while away from the static area at the far end sat a Fokker 60 from the Royal Netherlands Air Force.

The airshow's taxiway is in front of the crowdline, but unfortunately so is the sun most of the day. With the flying displays sharing the single pan with the static aircraft, they are on view from start-up to shut-down. The rest of this small but uncrowded show site is very open with no hangars and little shade, so even in September sun protection is a must.

In the build-up to the airshow the organisers went to great length to explain the strict safety regulations that apply to flying displays - this was to counteract public concern in the island over safety following a fatal accident during an Aero GP race (an alternative to the Red Bull races) over the harbour at Valletta two weeks earlier. Thankfully with those safety regulations firmly adhered to the airshow passed without incident.

Gaps in the flying display are a feature of the Malta airshow due to the two intersecting runways and the priority given to the busy commercial runway at Luqa. Any other gaps seemed to be filled by the CL415 water-bomber from the Italian Civil Protection Department, making a number of runs to deposit large amounts of water onto the airfield. Intended or not, one of these water bombing runs created a rainbow, which the aircraft then appeared to fly under - clever that!

There was a display by the Vega Formation, a civilian team from Italy, who in their small Tecnam P92s gave a spirited performance in the breezy conditions. The team's military background was evident, especially in their final manoeuvre flying a 'Frecce Tricolori' style arc of red, white and green smoke in front of the audience. The airshow gives the Armed Forces Of Malta the opportunity to dislay to its public with the Allouettes and Bulldogs in action. The Italian Air Force, which maintains a presence on the island in the SAR role with the AB212, gave a demonstation of their rescue techniques.

With displays by the Tucano and Hawk from the RAF, and from the French Alpha Jet, it was left to the Dutch F-16 (no flares) to represent the fast jets. The final display of the weekend came from the Swiss Air Force PC-7 Team with their precise orange formations standing out against the deep blue Mediterranean sky.

Although the content was down on the previous year the show lived up to its international title with eight countries attending. So, if you're arriving on one of those holiday flights next September, it's well worth a visit!

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