Tuesday, July 23, 2024 Air Shows » Royal Air Force » 1950s  

28 August 1954 – Hal-Far

The third public air display by the services in Malta in the post-war period was held on 28 August 1954, again at Hal Far. By then the United States Navy had established a permanent presence on the Island when FASRON201 Special was set up in late 1953 as a naval aircraft-servicing unit at Hal Far. Both the British and US naval air arms therefore operated concurrently from HMS Falcon, so that the 1954 air display was rendered more colourful by the presence of American aircraft. Again, thousands of Maltese, later estimated at 7,000, flocked to Hal Far for the airshow, the airbase opening its gates at 3.00 pm. The show programme cost a shilling (5p), and the visitors could spend their time till the flying programme started by going round the static display. Besides the usual racks of bombs, rockets, guns, ammunition belts, safety equipment and a pilotless target missile, one could view a row of parked aircraft that included a Royal Navy line-up of a Hawker Sea Hawk, a Fairey Firefly AS.5 which was already scheduled to join 1841 NAS, RNVR (Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve), Short Sturgeon TT.2 target-tugs of 728 NAS, a Hawker Sea Fury FB.11, a Supermarine Attacker FB.2, a Grumman Avenger AS.4 of 820 NAS and Westland Dragonfly HR.3 helicopters. Lockheed P2V Neptunes of US Navy Squadron VP21 and another Neptune MR.1 of the Royal Air Force were also present, all having personnel in attendance to answer questions by the public. In the main hangar was another Sea Hawk that had everything except the engine working, the mechanised folding and unfolding of its wings being particularly much to the amusement of the public. Another favourite attraction was a Link Trainer in which one could climb and try one's hand at piloting. The mechanical Link Trainer was the forerunner of today's computerised flight simulators.

The flying programme started sharply as scheduled at 5.00 pm, quite late in the day thanks to the length of daylight at that time of the year. Six US Navy Neptunes passed over the airfield in two V formations of three each and flew north, just as a Short Sturgeon of 728 Squadron took off with a target drogue tucked under its fuselage. Flying at not more than 50 feet (15.2 m) above the runway, the Sturgeon let out the winch cable and towed the drogue, which was then let loose over the tarmac.

Next in the air was a Gloster Meteor T.7 trainer which 728 NAS had acquired the previous April. The Meteor gave an impressive acrobatic solo display of its repertoire of loops, dives and rolls, inverted flying and fast flybys. It disappeared from sight to be replaced on the runway by two Westland Dragonfly HR.1 helicopters which, from 1952, had started to replace the Sea Otter amphibian in the SAR Flight. The Dragonflies put up a dummy rescue operation, picking up three 'ditched' airmen from the 'waters' of Hal Far runway, one of the whirring helicopters carefully dropping its rescued airman onto the waiting stretcher held by Sick Berth attendants by a parked ambulance.

With the rescue demonstration over, Hal Far and the surrounding areas were deafened by the sound of jet engines from no less than eight Hawker Sea Hawk FB.3s of 806 NAS usually based on the carrier HMS Centaur. An exemplary demonstration of formation aerobatics followed, at times all eight aircraft looping together and at others in two formations of four fighters each, but every move beautifully executed in typical British precision. A first class display of formation flying and a touch of aerobatics en masse, the local newspapers said.

The Navy jets were succeeded on the runway by the new helicopter then entering service with the Royal Navy, the Westland-built Whirlwind version of the American Sikorsky S.55. 845 NAS had arrived at Hal Far the previous May with its Whirlwind HAS.22s for dipping sonar trials from HMS Falcon. During the 1954 airshow, three of the Whirlwinds formated with a Douglas Skyraider AEW.1 antisubmarine piston engined aircraft of the short-lived 849E Squadron ('E' Flight had lasted from January to October 1954). With the helicopters showing off their capability of flying up, downwards, forwards backwards and even sideways at one instance flying in a ringaroses aerial game two of them whirled over the runway escorting the Skyraider which had everything down except the arrester hook, obviously at stalling speed to keep the speed of the eggbeaters!

Two de Havilland Sea Vampire F.20 jet fighters from 728 NAS the unit's first jet aircraft which it had acquired in 1951 then took off to perform a duo demonstration which left the public gasping. Their daredevil manoeuvres included what contemporary accounts described as fast flypasts on converging courses (we call it Russian Roulette nowadays), simultaneous takeoffs and landings, and other aerobatics.

The comic part of the air display was provided by a jeep speeding along the runway and loaded with strangely attired soldiers holding an outside dummy cine camera and a red flag with hammer and sickle. The announcer in the Control Tower PA system yelled for somebody to "do something", whereupon an 845 NAS Whirlwind appeared and chased the jeep on which it dropped dummy bombs which exuded thunderflash explosions and red smoke.

Another simultaneous takeoff was performed by Firefly FR.1 of 1841 NAS and Sea Fury FB.lls of 1831 NAS, both RNVR and both from RNAS Stretton, de Havilland Sea Hornet FR.20s of locally based 728 NAS and Supermarine Attacker FB.2 jet fighters of 803 NAS, the latter scheduled reequip with Sea Hawk FB.3s and join HMS Albion the following November. Then followed a handicap race between an 849 NAS Skyraider, 728 NAS Sea Hornet, Meteor and Sturgeon, an Attacker, a Sea Hawk and a 728 NAS Sea Vampire, the latter piloted by Capt Smeeton of HMS Falcon. The race consisted of two laps of a Hal Far-Delimara-Hal Far-Filfla course which was won by the Skyraider, followed by the Sea Hornet and the Sturgeon a close third: the good old piston engines had won over the glamorous jets!

The race was followed by a convincing demonstration of rocket projectile firing by four Supermarine Attackers of the Fleet Air Arm, who also put up an aerobatic show. But they were outshined by an unscheduled (at least not on the official programme) and outstanding display by Lt. John Kelly of 806 NAS who threw his Hawker Sea Hawk FB.3 about through the whole manual of aerobatics which astounded the public. He executed no less than five successive upward rolls, an excessively low and fast pass, hesitation rolls, eight-point rolls and a slow loop as a fitting finale not only for his show but also for a very interesting afternoon. A mass flypast by Fireflies, Seafires and Sea Hornets led by three Neptunes rounded up the show as afternoon merged into evening.

Hawker Sea Fury FB.11 Royal Navy      
Supermarine Attacker FB.2 Royal Navy      
Grumman Avenger AS.4 Royal Navy   820 NAS  
Westland Dragonfly HR.3 Royal Navy      
Lockheed P2V Neptune US Navy   VP21 Multiple aircraft.
Lockheed Neptune MR.1 Royal Air Force      
Hawker Sea Hawk Royal Navy     In main hangar.
Westland Dragonfly HR.1 Royal Navy      
de Havilland Sea Hornet Royal Navy   728 NAS Hal-Far based.
de Havilland Sea Hornet FR.20 Royal Navy   728 NAS  
de Havilland Sea Vampire F.20 Royal Navy   728 NAS Two aircraft.
de Havilland Sea Vampire Royal Navy   728 NAS Hal-Far based.
Gloster Meteor T.7 Royal Navy   728 NAS Hal-Far based.
Hawker Sea Hawk Royal Navy   728 NAS Hal-Far based.
Short Sturgeon TT.2 Royal Navy   728 NAS Target towing.
Short Sturgeon Royal Navy   728 NAS Hal-Far based.
Supermarine Attacker Royal Navy   728 NAS Hal-Far based.
Supermarine Attacker FB.2 Royal Navy   803 NAS  
Hawker Sea Hawk FB.3 Royal Navy   806 NAS Eight a/c, usually based on the carrier HMS Centaur.
Supermarine Attacker Royal Navy   806 NAS Four a/c fired rocket projectiles in the sea.
Westland Whirlwind HAS.22 Royal Navy   845 NAS Three aircraft.
Douglas Skyraider AEW.1 Royal Navy   849E Squadron* *'E' Flight lasted from January to October 1954.
Hawker Sea Fury FB.ll Royal Navy   1831 NAS, RNVR* Normally based at RNAS Stretton. * Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.
Fairey Firefly AS.5 Royal Navy   1841 NAS, RNVR*  
Fairy Firefly FR.1 Royal Navy   1841 NAS, RNVR Normally based at RNAS Stretton.


14 September 1957 – RAF Ta’ Qali

After the magnificent airshows organised by the Royal Navy at HMS Falcon in 1949 and 1954, the Royal Air Force was not to be outdone. The RAF Ta' Qali airshow of 14 September 1957 was remembered not only for being the most lavish and spectacular ever mounted in Malta till then but also for the traffic jam problem that it caused. Suffice it to say that the cars along the Rabat road leading to Ta' Qali was five deep and bumper to bumper as far back as the village of Attard, and those who were at the tail end at 2.45 pm were only able to enter the airfield at 4.30 pm. The RAF estimated a turnout of 40,000 against an expected 20,000, and 8,000 cars were recorded as having entered the main gate.

The static display was enough to attract the public, for the park contained a magnificent line-up: an English Electric Canberra B.2 of 73 Squadron, a 247 Squadron Hawker Hunter F.6, a Meteor NF.13 of 39 Squadron, an Avro Shackleton MR.2 of 38 Squadron, a Blackburn Beverley C.1 of 53 Squadron, a Westland Whirlwind, a Hawker Sea Hawk F.6, a Fairey Gannet AS.6, the latter two aircraft coming from the Royal Navy, Gloster Meteor FR.9 and Meteor T.7 both of 208, as well as the Ta' Qali-based Percival Pembroke C.1, Bristol Beaufighter TT.10, and Vickers Valetta C.1 of the Malta Communications and Target Towing Squadron. These were backed up by the usual equipment and engine display but also by an exhibition of aircraft servicing in one of the hangars.

The air display opened with a 247 Squadron Hunter F.6 that had come from RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus, and which performed a spectacularly low and fast flypast, chasing his noise; no wonder to the public that speed run seemed near sonic. Its pilot then threw it about the sky to demonstrate the aircraft's manoeuvrability, speed and climb capability. The jet fighter's shattering roars and temperamental action-packed movements were contrasted by the dignified flypast of four Avro Shackleton MR.2s from based 38 Squadron in their Air force Grey colour scheme most suitable for their maritime reconnaissance role. They flew slow and low over the airfield and disappeared from sight, to be followed by the takeoff of a Meteor target-tug streaming an air-to-air banner target which it later released over the airfield. But back came the Hunters, this time three of them, and executed another session of aerobatics, finishing in a screeching dive into a bomb-burst. They then came from opposite directions over the spectators and flew towards each other at a fast speed which alarmed the public. The Shackletons, too, came back, three of them, one on all four engines, one on three and one on two. The Malta Communications and Target Towing Squadron put up a flypast of three of its types: a Beaufighter TT.10, a Vickers Valetta C.1 and a Percival Pembroke C.1.

Four Canberra B.2s from 231 Operational Conversion Unit from RAF Bassingbourne flew by in tight formation in which they performed fighter-like aerobatics including looping the loop. At the end of their show one of them flew over the airfield trailing red smoke from its wingtip. One of the Shackletons again returned, this time to give an SAR demonstration. The aircraft circled over the runway where was positioned an airman in a dinghy simulating a ditched pilot in distress and waving frantically for help. Circling the airfield, the Shackleton overflew the airman once more, this time dropping parachute containers. On the scene arrived the RNAS Hal Far-based rescue Whirlwind and hovered some 20 feet (6 m) over the dinghy. A winched cable from the chopper lowered a crewmember who, together with the 'ditched' airman, was hoisted up into the open hatch door of the helicopter by the winch.

Meteor FR.9 coded ‘G’ from Ta' Qali based 208 Squadron took off to give its own version of a thrilling aero display, showing off the fighter's strong and reliable built which withstood those sharp turns and manoeuvres. A light touch to the whole air display was being provided by a Navy Whirlwind which periodically clattered into the scene, did some circling first dangling a man on a bicycle under it, then a 'witch' on a broomstick and lastly a man tucked into a bed, which looked like a sort of flying bedstead. An RAF DHC Chipmunk light trainer, however, provided the really comical spectacle of the airshow. As the Chipmunk attempted to takeoff, a fire-engine and an ambulance raced after it. A man was seen to be thrown off the aircraft which then took off, simulating a situation where the Chipmunk was now in the hands of a mad man who proceeded to throw it about the sky ostensibly out of control, spiralling, racing down the runway to zoom up and somersaulting over the crowds, pitching and rolling. When the Chipmunk landed, the pilot got out and raced along the airfield chased by cars until he was 'caught'.

The slow and seemingly harmless flyby of an Auster AOP of the British Army Air Corps from Tripoli, Libya contrasted sharply with the fast proceedings of the previous show. Meteor NF.13s of 39 Squadron, which flew past, followed it. The next flying exhibit did not perform any aerobatics but it stole the show: a Vickers Valiant B.1 bomber loomed large as it approached the crowd line, simply flew low and gracefully above the runway showing off its swept wings, and just faded away. The local population had become accustomed to the Valiant particularly the previous year when dozens of them were based in Malta to bomb Egypt during the Suez Crisis.

The final piece of the 1957 Ta' Qali airshow was provided by a simulated assault on an enemy fort. The wooden 'fort' was constructed in the centre of the runway, a Shackleton flying low and dropping smoke bombs on it that resulted in smoky explosions and in the 'fort' returning simulated antiaircraft fire. Then Hunter fighters beat up the fort but two Meteors appeared to intercept them. From one end of the runway appeared a huge Blackburn Beverley C.1, the bulk freighter of the RAF. It touched down, opened its huge rear ramp door from which emerged some 100 Royal Marines from the 40 Commando. These took up positions facing the fort against the sound of machinegun fire, while the Hunters again attacked the fort. Very Lights were fired and fire engines were suddenly seen racing across the airfield. The simulated attack had turned into something real as the airfield grass had caught fire and was spreading towards the Marines! While water was sprayed on the blackening grass, masses of foam were fired on the burning mass of the fort. Thus ended the air display of 1957, for many people, by a very authentic raid on a burning enemy fort!

Auster AOP British Army Air Corps     Flying display, Tripoli, Libya based.
Avro Shackleton MR.2 Royal AF WL755/U 38 Malta based.
Avro Shackleton MR.2 Royal AF WL756/T 38 Malta based.
Avro Shackleton MR.2 Royal AF WL785/W 38 Malta based.
Avro Shackleton MR.2 Royal AF WL798/X 38 Malta based. This a/c, along with “U”, “T” & “W” are the four aircraft that flew in formation as mentioned in the text.
Avro Shackleton MR.2 Royal AF WR964/N 38 Static display.
Blackburn Beverley C.1 Royal AF XB286/S 53 Static/Flying display.
Bristol Beaufighter TT.10 Royal AF RD788 MCTTS * * Malta Communications and Target Towing Squadron.
Bristol Beaufighter TT.10 Royal AF RD850/L MCTTS Flypast w/Pembroke WV734 & Valletta VX574.
DHC Chipmunk Royal AF WD378   I received an e-mail from Rod Brown of He most certainly thinks this is the aircraft’s serial number, as it was allotted to Malta on 10.08.57 from Rome and returned to Rome on 07.03.58.
EE Canberra B.2 Royal AF WH703 231 OCU RAF Bassingbourne-based.
EE Canberra B.2 Royal AF WH727 231 OCU RAF Bassingbourne-based.
EE Canberra B.2 Royal AF WJ577 231 OCU RAF Bassingbourne-based.
EE Canberra B.2 Royal AF WJ625 231 OCU RAF Bassingbourne-based. These four a/c performed formation flying as listed in the text.
EE Canberra B.2 Royal AF WK117 73 Flying display.
Fairey Gannet AS.6 Royal Navy XA454   Static display.
Gloster Meteor Royal AF     Flying display, with air-to-air banner target.
Gloster Meteor Royal AF _____/G   Flying display.
Gloster Meteor FR.9 Royal AF WH539/R 208 Flying display, Ta' Qali-based.
Gloster Meteor NF.13 Royal AF WM315/F 39 Static/flying display.
Gloster Meteor T.7 Royal AF WF772/L 208 Static display.
Hawker Hunter F.6 Royal AF XF456/B 247 Flying display, from RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus.
Hawker Hunter Royal AF     Flying display. Three aircraft, possibly 247 squadron.
Hawker Sea Hawk F.6 Royal Navy XF486   Static display.
Percival Pembroke C.1 Royal AF WV734 MCTTS Flypast w/Beaufighter RD850 & Valletta VX574.
Percival Pembroke C.1 Royal AF WV736 MCTTS Static display. Ta' Qali-based.
Vickers Valiant B.1 Royal AF XD826 7 Flying display.
Vickers Valetta C.1 Royal AF VW831 MCTTS Static display.
Vickers Valetta C.1 Royal AF VX574 MCTTS Flypast w/Beaufighter RD850 & Pembroke WV574.
Westland Whirlwind Royal Navy     Flying Display.

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