Tuesday, July 23, 2024 Air Shows » Royal Air Force » 1940s  

24 June 1944 – Hal-Far

Sparse details about this display, which probably was a services’ only event. By this time, the war for Malta was practically over.

Details of other participating aircraft unknown.
H. Hurricane Malta Communications Flight __755 According to the unit’s Operations Record Book (ORB), ". . . . the pilot gave a very good performance, despite having relatively few hours on the type."

24 May 1947 – Hal-Far

Air displays in Malta have always been popular and very well attended but organising them seems to have been done in hiccups over the decades, very much depending on the local or international political climate. While air pageants are documented to have been held in Malta as early as the 1920s – the first formal one being put together in January 1923 to inaugurate the opening of Hal Far airfield – it was in the post Second World War period that military air displays and open days for the public in the way we generally understand them today started to be organised in Malta. This article takes a look at the five major public air displays seen in Malta between 1947 and 1960 at Hal Far (HMS Falcon) and at Ta' Qali (RAF Ta’ Qali).

Until a few decades ago, Empire Day in the Colonies used to be celebrated in various ways. That of 1947, which fell on 24 May, was marked in Malta by an impressive air display for which the public, having perforce become very air minded during the then recently ended war, attended in their thousands, including a substantial number of schoolchildren.

The Royal Naval Air Station of Hal-Far was the venue. Malta was then an essential staging post for naval vessels and aircraft, and HMS Falcon, as the base became known after it was taken over from the RAF in 1946, had grown into one of the busiest Royal Naval Air Stations of the British Navy. Aircraft carriers flying the White Ensign were a common sight in Grand Harbour, the air complement, more often than not, flying off to Hal Far before the vessel entered port. The number of aircraft taking part in this first post-war public air display, which was an all-Navy affair, therefore looked promising. In fact, apart from the resident 728 Naval Air Squadron (NAS), the major participants came from the air groups from the aircraft carriers HMS Ocean and HMS Triumph, both of which had been in Grand Harbour since the 15 May and which had disembarked their aircraft to Hal Far.

The contribution of Ocean's 20th Air Group consisted of 816 NAS equipped with Fairey Firefly FR.1 and 805 NAS with Supermarine Seafire F.17. The 13th Air Group from HMS Triumph flew 827 NAS with Firefly FR.1 and 800 NAS with Seafire F.17. The latter unit had had already disembarked its Detachment 6 to Hal Far the previous February, until the whole Squadron was reunited on Triumph which called at Malta together with Ocean on 15 May. The locally-based 728 NAS had become the Fleet Requirements and Communications Unit (FRU) for the British Mediterranean Fleet. It consisted of a number of different types of aircraft suited to the many tasks required of it including target-towing, search and rescue, liaison, general communication, continuation training, etc.

A static display gave the opportunity for the Station to exhibit its equipment, including aircraft armament, instrument panels and engines, flying clothing, parachutes and dinghies. Prior to the opening of the flying programme, British Aviation Services Ltd and Instone Airlines (Malta) Ltd supplied an Airspeed Consul to provide flights around the Island to some 50 persons, including a number of boy scouts. The ramp included most of the aircraft taking part in the flying display as well as a B.O.A.C. Avro York airliner that had stopped at Malta on its way to the Middle East together with a Douglas DC3 of the same airline. The Royal Air Force was represented by an Avro Lancaster ASR.3 which was shown fitted with an under-fuselage airborne lifeboat to demonstrate one of its many capabilities for air-sea rescue. At the time 38 Squadron with Lancasters was based at nearby RAF Luqa.

The flying thrills started with a rapid takeoff by 816 NAS Fireflies led by the unit's commander, Lieut. Cmdr (A) S Hook which they followed up by a high-speed flypast. As they disappeared from sight, a 728 NAS Supermarine Sea Otter air sea rescue amphibian ambled past in contrast, and gave a humorous diversion flying low and slow along the crowd line with the crew waving and saluting to the spectators while 816's Fireflies formatted over Gozo. The Sea Otter was followed by a Hal Far-based North American Harvard trainer which was put through its most daring manoeuvres by its pilot, who then put it down in a perfect three point landing. A Miles Martinet from 728 NAS flew in towing a target, which it then released on the runway with the aircraft flying low but without landing.

805's Seafires followed next, the Squadron aircraft taking off in rapid succession. After formatting, the Squadron put up a series of perfectly timed aerobatic displays including rolls and loops, rounded off with a high speed low level "attack" run along the crowd line. A similar rapid take off was effected by HMS Triumph 's 800 and 827 NAS, whose eight Seafires and eight Fireflies performed another series of synchronised aerobatics. The highlights of this show was one of 800's Seafires which, after several rolls and dives, went into a particularly steep and fast dive with the engine cut out and disappeared beyond the skyline under the cliffs at the end of the runway. All sort of speculation, including a possible crash into the sea, inevitably ensued among the crowd, which in vain awaited the Seafire's return. It was only after around 10 minutes that the aircraft returned in full power above the heads of the spectators.

It was 728's turn again to show off its aircraft, and practically all its types participated: a de Havilland Mosquito, a Seafire, an Airspeed Oxford, another Harvard as well as another Sea Otter, all ably flown by the unit's experienced pilots. All Seafires and Fireflies of 13 and 20 Air Groups, which flew in a ceremonial formation, executed the grand finale with good taste, majestically epitomising the Fleet Air Arm's fighter power at the pinnacle of its post-war strength.

Airspeed Oxford Royal Navy   728 NAS  
de Havilland Mosquito Royal Navy   728 NAS  
Miles Martinet Royal Navy   728 NAS  
North American Harvard Royal Navy   728 NAS More than one Harvard, but unidentified.
Supermarine Seafire Royal Navy   728 NAS  
Supermarine Sea Otter Royal Navy   728 NAS  
Fairey Firefly FR.1 Royal Navy   816 NAS 20th Air Group HMS Ocean.
Supermarine Seafire F.17 Royal Navy   805 NAS 20th Air Group HMS Ocean.
Fairey Firefly FR.1 Royal Navy   827 NAS 13th Air Group, HMS Triumph
Supermarine Seafire F.17 Royal Navy   800 NAS 13th Air Group, HMS Triumph
Avro Lancaster ASR.3 Royal Air Force   38 RAF Luqa based.
Supermarine Seafire Royal Navy   805  
Supermarine Seafire Royal Navy   800 NAS  
Airspeed Consul British Aviation Services Ltd/Instone Airlines (Malta) Ltd     Provided flights around the Island.
Avro York B.O.A.C.     On its way to the Middle East.
DC-3 B.O.A.C.      


11 June 1949 – Hal-Far

On the Saturday afternoon of 11 June 1949, thousands of visitors again converged on Hal Far to watch members of the Mediterranean Naval Air Command display their aircraft and vehicles on the airfield for what was the second airshow of the post-war period. The British Empire had reached its peak then, the Royal Navy spearheading Britain's forces in keeping the sea and air lanes open to the far-flung colonies.

The June 1949 air display was therefore much looked forward to by the Maltese population who, just a few years before, had endured the hardest War times in living memory. The afternoon programme at Hal Far opened with a fire-fighting competition between teams from the Fire Sections of HMS Falcon and RNAS Ta Qali, the latter having itself become a Fleet Air Arm base in 1945 under the name of HMS Goldfinch. The contest consisted of putting out a fire in a Fairey Firefly fuselage that had been set ablaze on the airfield and trying to rescue a dummy pilot strapped in the cockpit. The 'pilot' rescued, rocket projectile--equipped Fairey Firefly of 812 NAS and Supermarine Seafire FR.47s of 804 NAS took off from the other end of the runway, their powerful Rolls Royce Griffon piston engines growling above the hubbub of the watching crowds.

While the fighters flew out of sight (in order to reappear by surprise later on), a Supermarine Sea Otter ASR.1 amphibian of the Search and Rescue (SAR) Flight then took off with its usual almost grandmotherly complacency. It flew over the airfield to drop a dummy parachutist to simulate an airman who had descended in the sea, and then banked round again to drop a dinghy near the 'ditched airman', thus demonstrating its accurately undertaken rescue job.

One of the operational services provided by HMS Falcon at the time was aerial target practice by 728 NAS. One of its aircraft, a Miles Martinet TT.1, took part in the air display by taking off while towing a winged target attached to a cable from its fuselage mounted winch. Three Fireflies that demonstrated the method of rapid takeoff as performed from an aircraft carrier followed this act.

The Seafire and Firefly fighters that had taken off earlier in the show then reappeared, screaming down the airfield in 30' dives, firing rockets and 2Omm cannon into the sea at the south-eastern end of the runway. This simulated an attack on an enemy force and was most ably done. Next came the turn of 800 NAS's Seafire FR.47s, normally embarked on the aircraft carrier HMS Triumph but at the time temporarily flying from Hal Far. These performed a rapid takeoff followed by simulated dogfights, showing off the acrobatic capabilities of the Seafire. Hardly had these ended when 827 NAS's Firefly FR.1s, also off HMS Truimph, came roaring across the airfield at low level to bomb the wreckage of a de Havilland Mosquito at the far end of the runway. The bombing was so accurate that the carcass was set alight with the first stick of bombs.

The 1949 air display provided aerial comedy as well. A carload of 'bandits' raced down the runway chased by a low flying de Havilland Tiger Moth biplane, which dropped flour bombs on the bandits who returned the fire with smoke puffs.

This was a Navy show but the Royal Air Force made its usual appearance, too. RAF Luqa based 37 Squadron sent in one of its Avro Lancaster MR.3, which showed off its manoeuvrability despite its size by a majestic takeoff and by flying down the runway at deck level and then banking sharply to repeat the run from the other direction. 73 Squadron, which until 1946 had been based at Hal-Far with Spitfires but which then moved to RAF Ta Qali, came with its de Havilland Vampire F.3 jet fighters. Their tailbooms emblazoned with the yellow and light blue Squadron markings, the Vampires performed a mass takeoff followed by an equally impressive acrobatic display over the airbase.

The show was nearing its end when Navy Fireflies taxied out to make a rocket-assisted takeoff as that practised from aircraft carriers. In the meantime Seafires also took off and proceeded to perform aerobatics, the Fireflies ending the act by a dummy carrier deck landing. The 1949 show came to its finale by a flypast of all the aircraft that took part in the air display that day. During the earlier part of the afternoon, a de Havilland Devon was employed to take people for joyrides over Malta, while a static display of aircraft, as well as of technical and safety equipment backed up the flying pageant.

Fairy Firefly Royal Navy     Multiple aircraft, rocket-assisted takeoffs.
Supermarine Sea Otter ASR.1 Royal Navy     Search and Rescue (SAR) Flight.
Miles Martinet TT.1     728 NAS  
Supermarine Seafire FR.47 Royal Navy   800 NAS HMS Triumphbased, temporarily flying from Hal Far.
Supermarine Seafire FR.47 Royal Navy   804 NAS  
Fairey Firefly NF.l Royal Navy   812 NAS  
Fairey Firefly FR.1 Royal Navy   827 NAS HMS Triumph based, temporarily flying from Hal Far.
de Havilland Mosquito       Bombed during display.
de Havilland Tiger Moth        
Avro Lancaster MR.3 Royal AF   37 RAF Luqa based.
Avro Lancaster MR.3 Royal AF   38 RAF Luqa based. These two Lancasters departed from Luqa for Hal-Far on the 11th.
de Havilland Vampire F.3 Royal AF   73 RAF Ta Qali based.
de Havilland Devon       Used for joyrides.

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