The 23rd Malta International Air Show was held over the weekend of 23 and 24 September 2015 and once again was a great success, with a large static park comprising many varied and exotic types rarely seen at most European air shows. Kevin Wills writes.
Organised and managed safely by the unpaid volunteers of the Malta Aviation Society, the Malta International Air Show has rapidly become a ‘must visit’ end of season show for lots of enthusiasts and aviation photographers. That said, the show is probably also unique in that it not only attracts aviation enthusiasts, but it can also claim to be the largest public event held on the Maltese Islands and attracts over one tenth of the entire Island’s population. As a result, the International Air Show is a vital part of the Maltese Tourist industry attracting visitors and air assets from far and wide. The 2015 air show was no exception, with participants coming from no less than three different continents.
Returning this year following their debut at the 2014 show were the Egyptian Air Force who attended with a K-8E “Karakorum” trainer, this time wearing the colours of their national display team, the “Silver Stars” – which hopefully may be an indication of a future visit from the whole team in years to come – along with a C-130H Hercules support aircraft. It was great to see the Egyptians really engaging with the airshow public by bringing ground displays and allowing access to the aircraft.
As previously mentioned, the static displays contained a wide variety of air arms and types. The Royal Canadian Air Force made a welcome return to Malta after an absence of many years supporting the show with a CP-140 Aurora, 140105, from No 415 Squadron. It’s no surprise considering its island status and the nature of ongoing operations in the Southern Mediterranean that several of the attending aircraft, including the Canadians, are involved in maritime surveillance and patrol. The United States Navy sent P-3C Orion 163003 from VP-9 “Golden Eagles”, and the largest type in the static park was a NATO AWACS, LX-N90444, both of which are rarely seen at airshows in modern times.
Fast jet fans had a pair of Mirage 2000s from the Hellenic Air Force based at Tanagra, alongside a pair of Royal Air Force Typhoons from No 1 Squadron based at RAF Lossiemouth. Close neighbours Italy were represented by the Ferrari of the skies (Piaggio’s claim, not the author’s), a Piaggio P.180 Avanti. It was also good to see the United States Air Force supporting the show too, with a C-130J from the 86th AW based at Ramstein in Germany, and the Romanian Air Force made its debut in Malta with a C-27 Spartan transport aircraft. Poland also supported the static display with a CASA 295 and an AN-28 Bryza.
The UK and Malta share longstanding friendship, history and traditions, so it was good to see strong support to the show from the UK military. In addition to the Typhoons, the Royal Air Force also sent a Beechcraft 200 King Air from RAF Cranwell. The Royal Navy, though, provided the most support to the 2015 airshow, with fixed wing and rotary types. An Avenger T1 (Beechcraft 350) from 750 Naval Air Squadron made the long journey from RNAS Culdrose. Also from Culdrose, but part of a detachment based locally, was a Merlin HM.2 ZH857 from 814 NAS. The Merlin was at the end of its stay for “Operation Frontex” where it had been supporting NATO and local forces engaged in the refugee crisis in the Southern Mediterranean Sea.
But perhaps the most significant participants at this year’s show were the Royal Navy Black Cats display team with their two AW159 Wildcat helicopters. Air and ground crews for the team, along with the Wildcats themselves, are drawn from the newly reformed 825 Naval Air Squadron based at RNAS Yeovilton. 825 NAS can trace its roots back to the pre-World War Two era, when in 1935 it first arrived in Malta at Hal Far airfield. The squadron crest also depicts an eight pointed red/white Maltese cross. It was fitting, therefore, that the team should choose Malta to fly its first overseas display with the Wildcats.
The ease at which the mammoth logistical task to deploy the team to Malta was completed is a testament to the hard work of the 825 NAS engineers who planned and executed it with the support of the RAF’s No 99 Sqn and its C-17 aircraft that were used to transport the pair of Wildcats to Malta. The British Army was also represented at the show, with members of the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment’s Parachute Display team, ‘The Tigers’, dropping into the show, from the back of a locally based Maltese Islander.
The flying display was spread as always over the two days, with the line up reversing each day. Two display teams were present – the Swiss Air Force PC-7 team and the Polish Air Force Orlik Aerobatic Team. Both gave very polished and graceful flying demonstrations. Noise and speed was provided by the Belgian Air Force F-16 demo team, with “Gizmo” putting the Fighting Falcon through its paces. A welcome late addition to the flying display came in the form of the Hellenic Air Force T-6A Texan II ‘Daedalus’ flight demonstration team. It was really good to see Greek participation in both the flying and static displays.
Joining the Royal Navy Black Cats in representing the rotary community was an AgustaWestland AW149 recently acquired by the Italian Air Force and currently undergoing flight testing. It’s also worth noting that another AgustaWestland product was also present at the show in the form of an AW189 operated locally by Gulf Helicopters. Perhaps with the Merlin, AW139, AW149, AW159 and 189 all present, the company should consider sponsoring the event next year…
But no review of the Malta International Air Show would be complete without mentioning Air Wing Malta, and the Italian Military Mission in Malta. Once again the guys and gals of the local air arms provided superb support to the airshow. Amazing effort from all concerned considering the current workload on this small but very capable group of personnel. Continuing a very welcome trend, the Air Wing displayed an example of each type in their inventory in the static display, but also provided flying displays and role demonstrations from all the types as well.
This provided visitors and enthusiasts at the show to opportunity to witness displays from the rotary types – Alouette, AW139 and AB212 – and fixed wing types – BN2 Islander and Beechcraft 200 King Air. Special mention, however, must go to the crews of the King Air and AW139 who flew a dynamic formation display. Top marks to all involved in the planning and execution of a great display, and in this current climate actually having the will and desire to achieve it and show the crowd something different.
Well done to the whole Malta International team for once again staging a very successful, entertaining and safe airshow. It’s never an easy task organising an airshow at an International Airport, but they managed it with style. For those interested in attending the 2016 show, it’s planned to take place over the weekend of 24 and 25 September.