Article by Max Zammit / Photos courtesy of Ramona Mifsud
Air shows in Malta have always drawn large crowds, and it is a tradition that the Maltese people have valued for over a century. The first air display took place on January 16, 1923, to commemorate the opening of Malta’s first purpose-built airfield in Hal Far. Open days became a pattern in the 1930s thanks to the RAF, and after WWII, they became even more popular. A crowd of 25,000 people turned out in Ta’Qali in August 1960 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. The 2-hour display featured the best of British aircraft design at the time, including Shackletons, Canberras, Meteors, and Hunters.
RAF Luqa was decommissioned with an impressive display of assets in the 1970s, and the Red Arrows and Frecce Tricolori acrobatic teams both performed over the airport on several occasions in the 1980s. The Malta Aviation Society organized the first Malta International Airshow in September 1993, providing aviation enthusiasts with their first locally organized event.
The static display of the Air Squadron of the Armed Forces of Malta featured an AB-47G-2, one of the two NH.369s, an Alouette III and one of the five newly acquired L19 Bird-Dogs.
The Aeronautica Militare Italiana participated with two Tornados from 36o Stormo and two AMXs from 2o Stormo, Italy’s most recent acquisition at the time when it replaced the Fiat G.91.
The US Navy participation consisted of a P-3 Orion from VP-26 “Tridents” squadron which were based at Naval Air Station Jacksonville in Florida.
On board the USS America, an S-3 from Air Anti-Submarine Squadron 32 “Maulers” and an F/A-18 from VFA-82 “Marauders” joined the show, both supported by a C-2 Greyhound on arrival and departure days. Only two years prior, during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, both of these squadrons played key roles. While VS-32 became the first S-3 Viking squadron to engage, bomb, and destroy a hostile Iraqi gunboat, the Marauders flew 597 combat sorties and dropped more than 1.2 million pounds of ordnance over Iraq.
The Luftwaffe’s F-4F Phantom II, of which there was also an example in the static display, was without a doubt the highlight of the air show over Marsamxett Harbour. In the 1970s, Phantom FG.1s were a common sight, and the Maltese were well acquainted with the F-4’s distinctive shape and potent engine sound.
11 aircraft in total, including a Canberra PR Mk9 from 39 Squadron, a former Malta-based RAF unit, were sent to the event. The ground attack and reconnaissance categories were represented by two Harrier GR.7s (in the well-known NATO green scheme), two Tornado GR.1s from 15 Squadron, and two Jaguar GR.1As from 6 and 16 Squadrons.
208 Squadron sent one special Buccaneer S.2Bs, just in time before their retirement in 1994. During its time in the Gulf War, XX901 flew 14 operational missions and had the unique distinction of attacking and destroying an Iraqi Antonov AN-12.
The RAF lineup was completed by two BAe Hawks T.1s, one painted in air defense gray camouflage and the other in red/white/blue training colors from the 1980s.