Tuesday, May 21, 2024 Military Aviation » Armed Forces of Malta  

Armed Forces of Malta’s Air Wing *

Material for this article was primarily taken from the articles “An Air Force in Miniature” Luqa Aviation Yearbook 1983/84 and “Malta’s Air Squadron” Malta Aviation Yearbook 1995, both written by John Visanich, to whom I am indebted for his permission to reproduce it here. Additional data from AAE Newsletter, press cuttings and my own notes and observations.

Any conclusions reached are my own, and not to be taken to reflect official Maltese Government or Armed Forces of Malta policy.

* Since this page originally appeared, the Air squadron has been renamed Air Wing, to reflect new responsibilities.

Perhaps one of Britain’s most important colonies, especially in times of war, Malta was granted Independence on 21 September 1964. A defence agreement allowed Britain and NATO forces to remain n Malta for a further ten years, with an obligation of defending Malta from any would be aggressor.

With the presence of UK and NATO forces on the island, the Nationalist administration of the time (1962-1971) didn’t make any attempts to give the Malta Land Force (as the Armed Forces of Malta were known at the time) an aviation component. It is worth noting however, that Nimrods of the Malta-based 203 Squadron would assist in SAR missions.

Humble Beginnings

After a Labour administration (1971-1987) was elected, steps were taken to set up a small helicopter flight. Their duties, then as now, were the surveillance of Maltese territorial waters against smuggling, illegal fishing, unauthorised anchorage by foreign vessels and guarding against sea pollution. Four surplus Bell 47G-2s were to be donated by the then West Germany, in a package which included the training of the first pilots and technicians, and additional assistance in the initial period of the Flight. The first group of pilots/technicians were chosen form the Police and Malta Land Force, and these were flown to WGAF Helicopter training School at Fassberg on 8 October 1971. The first group of eight pilots returned on board a Luftwaffe C-160 Transalls, along with Bell-47G2s 9H-AAE and 9H-AAF on 24 May, with 9H-AAG and 9H-AAH arriving on 29 May.

Initially, until they were civil registered, the construction number (c/n) of each helicopter was used for radio communications. Floats, first used on 9H-AAE, could also be attached, adding flexibility in air-sea rescue work, but these limited the helicopter’s maximum speed to around 50-mph.

Initially, the helicopters were based at St. Patricks, and would remain there, until a brief sojourn to Hal-Far in September 1978, in preparation to a transfer to Park 7, Luqa Airport, after the British withdrawal on 31 March 1979. It has remained there ever since.

Libyan Connection

The next addition to the Flight would be a donation from Libya, an ex Libyan military AB.206A Jet Ranger, c/n 8185, arriving on board a Libyan AF C-130E, serial 117, on 4 June 1973. The c/n also doubled as its serial number, until it was placed on the civil register as 9H-AAJ in April 1976. Like the Bell 47s, the 206 pilots also used the c/n for radio ATC.

Relations with Libya under Mr. Mintoff’s Labour Government had improved to such an extent that a Libyan Military Mission was set up on the island. On 30 January 1975, two Super Frelon helicopters arrived, to assist in patrols round the Maltese Islands. Flown by a Libyan crew, Maltese observers were also carried on board. The table below gives some further details about these helicopters.
SA.321M Super Frelon LC.155 30.01.75 Carried Arabic lettering and “SAR” on the rear fuselage, but no national markings.
SA.321M Super Frelon LC.158 30.01.75  
SA.321M Super Frelon LC.153   Was in Malta by 30.04.75
SA.321M Super Frelon LC.157   Was in Malta by 30.04.75. Other Super Frelons seen in Malta until August 1981 were LC151, LC152 and LC154.


Expulsion of Libyan Military Mission

Ever since re-gaining power in the June 1971 elections, Mr. Mintoff’s Labour Government had steered an ever more leftist course, with neutrality and non-alignment the main pillar of his foreign policy. Starting with the immediate expulsion of all NATO forces *, Malta’s defence agreement with Britain, set to expire in September 1974, was the next to fall under the spotlight. Asking them to depart the island by 1st January 1972, then by the 15th of the same month, an extension was granted until 31 March of the same year. However, agreement was reached on 26 March, granting the use of Malta’s facilities to Britain until 31 March 1979.

Given all this, and Gaddafi’s wish to expel all “foreign powers” from the Mediterranean, together with the stationing of a Libyan Military Mission in Malta, it is now a matter of conjecture as to what Gaddafi’s plans for Malta were (this being the height of the Cold War)!

In August 1980, what many would have thought unthinkable happened. An Italian oil-drilling vessel under contract to the Maltese Government, was ordered out of the area by a Libyan frigate on the grounds that it was operating in Libyan waters. In retaliation, the Government expelled the Libyan Military Mission from Malta.

During their hasty departure, the Libyans left the Alouettes in Malta, but not the all-important logbooks, which they took with them. Whether the helicopters were left behind because there was no time to arrange for their transportation back to Libya, because it was intended to eventually donate them to Malta, or perhaps the Libyan Government thought that after a suitable cooling off period, they would be allowed back on the Island, remains unclear and unknown. In any case, the helicopters were placed in storage in a hangar, with their future Maltese registration taped to the cockpit windows. The logbooks were eventually handed over to the Maltese Government in June 1990.

Italian Connection

Although Mr. Mintoff’s relationship with Libya received the most (unwelcome) publicity, links with Italy, our closest European neighbour, were also being forged. In fact, it was on 17 June 1975 that an aid agreement was signed. As a result of this agreement, an Italian military mission (or Missione Italiana di Assistenza Tecnico Militare to give it its full and proper title) was set up on the Island, with the aim of assisting in the development of Malta. As a result of this agreement, the AFM were able to send the Bell 47s and Ab.206 to Bergamo for their overhaul in June 1975.

The expulsion of the Libyan Mission now saw these links with Italy grower stronger, with Italy pledging to recognise Malta’s neutrality, and offering a greater level of assistance. This was most beneficial for the Helicopter Flight, as an Italian Air Force AB.204 helicopter was now based at Luqa, to be used for Search and Rescue (SAR) missions. The first one to arrive in 1982 was coded 15-02.

On 26 July 1982, an Italian AF C-130 brought a second AB.204B, MM80352. Shortly afterwards, Maltese pilots started a conversion training on the AB.204. At one point, four 204s were to be stationed at Luqa, but these never materialised, two being the usual number based at Luqa. The AB.204 would continue to be used by the Italian Military Mission until replaced by the AB.212 in 1987. At the time of writing, the AB.212s are still based on the Island.

Fixed Wing aircraft

Although useful, the helicopters had their limitations, namely in terms of range. The Armed Forces never lost sight of the fact that a fixed-wing aircraft could do a far better job of patrolling the Maltese territorial waters, over larger areas, at greater distances from land, and at lower costs than helicopters ever could.

First attempts at introducing a fixed-wing element came in 1976 in the shape of three Dornier Do.27s from West German, but this offer was refused as being unacceptable for Malta.

Further attempts were made in the eighties, which saw a number of aircraft being brought over to demonstrate their capabilities. These included a Piaggio P.166 DL3 in June 81, whilst during 1985, Turbine Islanders G-OPBN and G-DEMO came in April, followed by Partinavia P.68 Observer I-OBSV in July, and Lake Seawolf N1402J in October. In July 1986 a Dornier 228, D-CBOL, was also brought over, but again, nothing came of these evaluations, The Pilatus Britten-Norman Turbine Islander was again seen in 1987.

Following the re-unification of Germany, two ex-East German Air Force Let L.410 Turbolets were offered by the German government for a very low price, but after examination by high ranking DCA and AFM officials, the offer was declined on technical grounds. Around this time Medavia offered two CASA C.212 Aviocars, due to curtailment of its activities following the UN sanctions against Libya. However the asking price was too high for the AFM's limited budget.

In 1993, another offer from Germany in the shape of two Dornier Do.28s was again turned down, mainly on grounds of the aircraft’s age and being tail-draggers.

The Nineties: New Equipment

It was in 1991 that the AFM took the first steps towards acquiring a fixed-wing aircraft by accepting an offer from the United States Government to buy, for what has been described as a "nominal price", five Cessna 0-lE Bird Dogs.

They were flown to Malta on 4 February, 1992 by Italian Army pilots, accompanied by an "Esercito Italiano" AB.212. Closer to Malta, the formation was joined by the Helicopter Flight's Jet Ranger off Malta for filming purposes.

The five Cessnas had been taken out of surplus Italian Army stocks, and despite their age were still in very good condition. All five arrived in standard Italian Army dark green and dark earth disruptive camouflage with silver painted undersides. Italian Army designations, serials, codes and national insignia were carried, except for the fuselage roundels and unit badges which had been deleted before delivery.

Immediately on arrival at Luqa, Bird Dog MM61-2983/EI-2 earned the distinction of becoming the first aircraft to wear the new George Cross markings, mostly for the benefit of the large press group present on Park 7. The roundels were applied to all four-wing positions and both sides of the fuselage, with fin flashes on both sides of the vertical tail. (See Markings.)

In the days following their arrival, all Italian markings except the US serials were removed, including the "O-1E" designators. AFM markings were applied to all five aircraft and they were placed on the Maltese Civil Register as 9H-ACA, 9H-ACB, 9H-ACC, 9H-ACD and 9H-ACE.

Modifications to enable civil certification were carried out by AFM personnel, and local flying started with 9H-ACA in June 1992, closely followed by the other four.

The acquisition of the Bird Dogs meant a substantial increase in pilot requirements. Two experienced Helicopter Flight pilots were sent to the Italian Army base at Viterbo to convert to fixed wing, while a call for applications for sergeant pilots for fixed wing aircraft was issued on 24 April 1992. As a minimum qualification, applicants were required to be in possession of a current private pilot's license (Fixed Wing). Another call for applications for pilots from the various ranks of the AFM was made, from which one lieutenant and one gunner were selected and attended the course in Italy. By 29 April 1993 the AFM had nine pilots qualified on type.

The introduction of the Bird Dogs wasn’t without its share of problems. The new sergeant pilots in particular found the tail-dragging Cessna quite a handful to land, and a number of minor incidents occurred, thankfully without a single injury. The first of these happened on 24 November 1992, when 9H-ACB scraped a wingtip on the ground whilst taxiing. On 16 March 1993, 9H-ACC suffered a similar accident. Both aircraft were repaired by NCA at Safi.

The most serious incident occurred on 5 May, 1993, the victim again being 9H-ACB. The aircraft had just landed after a training flight when the sergeant pilot apparently lost control and the Bird Dog swerved violently into the grass verge, extensively damaging the starboard wing and tailplane and shearing off the main starboard undercarriage leg. As the aircraft had been purchased for a very modest price, the AFM decided not to repair 9H-ACB and withdrew it from service, the machine serving as a source of spares. It has since been donated to the Malta Aviation Museum.

Despite these incidents, the Bird Dogs soon now settled into service and routinely used for pilot training and coastal patrol flights. In fact, with the expected delivery of an Islander (of which more later), the pilots began amassing as much fixed wing hours as possible. The Cessnas remained in the Italian Army tactical camouflage.

The Bird Dog account would not be complete without reference to Glorianne Farrugia who, at 21, became Malta's first female military pilot when the first group of sergeant pilots were awarded their wings on 29 April 1993. However, Ms. Farrugia chose not to continue with her flying career in the Air Squadron.

More helicopters

Later in 1992, further acquisitions were made, when on 6 June, two ex-Guardia di Finance Nardi-Hughes 369, were flown to Malta. An Maltese instructor pilot first converted on type at Guidonia and Frosinone, Italy, and in turn converted the remaining eight pilots at Luqa.

The two Hughes were the first to be painted in the Air Squadron livery of white, green and Day-Glo. After repainting they became 9H-ABY (ex-MM80848) and 9H-ABZ (ex-MM80854).

Alouettes Fly

December 23, 1992, was an important milestone in the Air Squadron’s history, as it marked the arrival of the first two Alouette IIIs after overhaul in France.

After almost 11 years, the logbooks of the three ex-Libyan SA.316B Alouette III helicopters were finally handed over by Staff Colonel El Rifi El Sharif, Chief of Staff of Libyan Air Defence to Brig. John Spiteri, then AFM Commander on 11 June 1991.

Eurocopter were then contracted to overhaul two of the Alouettes and train two pilots and four technicians as part of the deal.

Around mid August 1992, LC2295 and LC2315, which were to be registered 9H-AAW and 9H-AAX respectively, were partly dismantled and loaded onto trailers for the journey by sea and road to Marignane, departing Malta on 21 August. Shortly before their arrival in Malta, the AFM again contracted with the same company to overhaul the third machine and train another two technicians.

The third Alouette III, (LC2288, the camouflaged example) departed by trailer early February 1993 to Eurocopter for overhaul. The helicopter was flown to Malta as 9H-AAV on 19 July 1993.

Although single-engined, and of shorter duration than the AB.212s, the three Alouettes are equipped with a rescue hoist, cargo hook, stretcher kit and emergency flotation gear for over-the-water operations. For the first time in its twenty-year history, the Air Squadron was at last endowed with true SAR capability, which greatly reduced the complete dependability it had on the Italian Military Mission.

No further new equipment was received, until the much-heralded BN Islander, 9H-ACU, finally arrived on 4 December 1995. This aircraft was delivered as part of the deal when Air Malta purchased four RJ.70s. (A second Islander, 9H-ADF, would be delivered in 1998.)

In 1996, another two Alouettes, 9H-ADA and 9H-ADB were purchased from the Royal Netherlands AF, arriving on 5 October. These were ex-Dutch Air Force, and, at the time of writing, are still flying in the brown and dark green camouflage of their previous owners.

The Islanders – and more Alouettes

No further new equipment was received, until the much-heralded BN Islander, 9H-ACU, finally arrived on 4 December 1995. This aircraft was delivered as part of the deal when Air Malta purchased four RJ.70s. (A second Islander, 9H-ADF, would be delivered in 1998.)

In 1996, another two Alouettes, 9H-ADA and 9H-ADB were purchased from the Royal Netherlands AF, arriving on 5 October. These were ex-Dutch Air Force, and retained the brown and dark green camouflage of their previous owners.


After these deliveries, the A.F.M. began a process of rationalisation of the Air Squadron, and in 1997, the Jet Ranger and the four AB.47s were put up for sale. The Jet Ranger and AB.47s 9H-AAF and 9H-AAG were soon sold. The Bird Dogs too, were disposed of, leaving Malta in a container in December 2000. A table listing the new identities of sold aircraft is listed separately at the end of this page.

Following the retirement of the Bird-dogs, the Air Squadron was in need of a “new” training aircraft, and the choice fell on four ex-Royal AF Bulldogs, which arrived on 19 February 2000, registered Consecutively from 9H-ADQ to 9H-ADT. A fifth Bulldog was added to the fleet in July, 2001.


A military aircraft carrying civil registrations imposed limitations when the Squadron needed to fly an aircraft abroad, needing to observe certain diplomatic procedures.

Thus, a new military numbering system came into effect, and on 1 May 2000, all types were cancelled from the Maltese Civil Register. The new system consists of the letters AS (for Air Squadron) and four numbers. The first two indicate the year when the aircraft was purchased, the last two the order in which the aircraft joined the Air Squadron. Thus Islander AS9516 was purchased in the year 1995, and was the 16th aircraft to join the Air Squadron.

It is worth noting that, even aircraft that had already been sold were included in the new system.

Another first was the participation by the Air Squadron in the RNLAF Open Day held at Volkel Air Base in the year 2000. The following year, they attended the prestigious Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford, England, the Air Squadron sending an Islander and Bulldog.


Initially, none of the helicopters carried any national insignia. When the four B.47s and AB.206 returned from overhaul in Italy in June 1976, the 1st Regiments colours of a horizontally divided red and blue disk, with a white “1” were applied.

When on 1 April 1980, the 1st Regiment and some other units were placed under a separate command known as the Task Force, the markings changed to a red and white circle, with black “TF” lettering.

However, after a re-organisation of the A.F.M. in 1988, the markings changed again, the “TF” being replaced by a “1” for First Regiment.

1992 saw another change in markings, with a red and white roundel, and the George Cross on the white inner circle. A fin flash, consisting of the Maltese flag, is to be found on the fin of all aircraft/helicopters. The roundel was first applied to the Bird-dogs on their arrival.

A complete list of all the types that have served with the Helicopter Flight/Air Squadron/Air Wing is also being given. Aircraft that have been sold/disposed off have been marked with an asterisk (*).


AS7201 AB.47G-2 225 9H-AAE 74+02; AS392 Luftwaffe 14.07.72 01.05.00  
AS7202 AB.47G-2 260 9H-AAF * 74+18; AS060 Luftwaffe 14.07.72 05.12.97 Re-registered F-GLNY.
AS7203 AB.47G-2 262 9H-AAG * 74+20; LA106 Luftwaffe 14.07.72 20.11.97 Currently in the UAE, with fictitious markings ‘A6-BEL’.
AS7204 B.47G-2 1991 9H-AAH 74+35; AS394 Luftwaffe 14.07.72 01.05.00 Last flight on 07.06.93.
AS7305 AB.206A 8185 9H-AAJ * 8185; 5A-BAM Libyan AF 10.06.75 22.08.97 Since re-registered G-DNCN, G-PELS, G-EEGO, G-PMGG.
AS9206 Cessna L-19 305M-0018 9H-ACA * MM61-2972/EI-34 Italian Army 14.05.92 01.05.00 Re-registered N619SB.
AS9207 Cessna L-19 305M-0029 9H-ACB * MM61-2983/EI-2 Italian Army 14.05.92 ?  
AS9208 Cessna L-19 305M-0032 9H-ACC * MM61-2986/EI-25 Italian Army 14.05.92 01.05.00 Re-registered N320DA in New Mexico, on 25.06.02.
AS9209 Cessna L-19 305M-0038 9H-ACD * MM61-2990/EI-26 Italian Army 14.05.92 01.05.00 Re-registered N119AJ in Minnesota, on 01.03.01.
AS9210 Cessna L-19 305M-0035 9H-ACE * MM62-12281/EI-12 Italian Army 14.05.92 01.05.00 Re-registered N119LH in Wisconsin on 23.07.02.
AS9211 SA.316B Alouette III 2295 9H-AAW LC2295 Libyan Police 21.12.92 01.05.00  
AS9212 SA.316B Alouette III 2315 9H-AAX LC2315 Libyan Police 21.12.92 01.05.00  
AS9213 N.H.369HM 62-0220M 9H-ABY MM80848/GdiF49 Guardia di Finanzia 12.06.92 01.05.00 Last flight on 09.03.06. Overhauled and on display at the Guardia di Finanza Historical Museum.
AS9214 N.H.369HM 122-0227M 9H-ABZ MM80854/GdiF55 Guardia di Finanzia 12.06.92 01.05.00 Last flight on 29.11.92.
AS9315 SA.316B Alouette III 2288 9H-AAV LC2288 Libyan Air Force 16.07.93 01.05.00  
AS9516 BN Islander BN2B-26 2159 9H-ACU     15.12.95 01.05.00  
AS9617 SA.316O Alouette III 1209 9H-ADA A-209 Royal Netherlands AF 23.09.96 01.05.00 Last flight on 08.11.03.
AS9618 SA.316O Alouette III 1399 9H-ADB A-1399 Royal Netherlands AF 23.09.96 01.05.00 Last flight on 25.03.02.
AS9819 BN Islander BN2B-26 2516 9H-ADF G-LIPP   24.09.98 01.05.00  
AS0020 SA Bulldog T Mk.1 BH120-337 9H-ADQ XX691/11 Royal Air Force 10.02.00 01.05.00 Written off in accident 2007.
AS0021 SA Bulldog T Mk.1 BH120-345 9H-ADR XX696/S Royal Air Force 10.02.00 01.05.00  
AS0022 SA Bulldog T Mk.1 BH120-358 9H-ADS XX709/E Royal Air Force 10.02.00 01.05.00 Sold, departed the Air Wing between 19/20.10.19.
AS0023 SA Bulldog T Mk.1 BH120-363 9H-ADT XX714/D Royal Air Force 10.02.00 01.05.00 Sold to a private owner on 23.09.19.
AS0124 SA Bulldog T Mk.1 BH120-240   XX547 Royal Air Force     Arrived in Malta on 08.08.01.
AS0925 Casa 212-200 139     89001 Swedish Air Force   Aircraft arrived w/AFM markings/serial on 28.07.09 on a three-month lease from Luxembourg for use on illegal migration patrols conducted by FRONTEX during Operation Nautilus. Departed on 15.10.09. HISTORY: First flt. On 20.06.78 as ECT-104, rr EC-DHO in 1979 for use as demonstration aircraft by CASA. To Swedish Air Force as 89001 on 30.06.86, Swedish aircraft designation SH89.
AS1126 Hawker Beech 200 King Air BB-2016 D-IMPA         Arrived on 25.02.11. Initially flew as D-IMPA, pending acceptance by the Air Wing.
AS1227 Hawker Beech 200 King Air BB-2018 D-IMPB         Arrived on 05.03.12. Performed a fly by in formation with AS1126 prior to landing.
AS1428 AW.139 31580 I-EASZ         Arrived on 14.06.14 with Italian registration.
AS1429 AW.139 31580 I-EASI         Arrived on 18.12.14, with Italian registration.
AS1430 AW.139   I-PTFT         Arrived on 22.09.16, with Italian registration. Escorted by AS1428.
AS1731 Hawker B200 MPV BY-249 D-CMPD         Arrived on 28.04.17, escorted by AS1227. This aircraft differs from the previous two Beech 200s in having larger engines de-rated to 850 shp and a higher MTOW of 14,000lbs, compared to a normal Beech 200 of 12,500lbs.
AS2132 RPAS Heron drone             Arrived in a container and assembled. First flight on 26.04.21.
A-247 Sud SA-316B Alouette III       Royal Netherlands AF     Arrived by sea on 19.09.19, transported to the Air Squadron on the 20th.
A-292 Sud SA-316B Alouette III       Royal Netherlands AF     Arrived by sea on 19.09.19, transported to the Air Squadron on the 20th.

The Future

As stated earlier, the acquisition of the Alouettes, together with the stationing of Italian AF AB.204s, superseded by AB.212s, was a big boost for AFM SAR capabilities. But the Alouettes remain single-engined helicopters, with a limited radius of action. There were also press reports that the Italian Military Mission will be switching over to naval operations, with the Italian embassy being quick to point out that “the Mission is here to stay”. Either way, the Italian AF AB.212’s aren’t Maltese property and their withdrawal (sudden or gradual, for whatever reason) will seriously jeopardise rescue mission capabilities.

The situation, however, is not all gloom and doom. In 2005, the AFM Maritime Patrol Squadron accepted into service a new patrol boat, from which a Bell 212-sized helicopter can operate (including re-fuelling). Although weather may impose limits on helicopter operations, it will greatly enhance a helicopters’ radius of action.

In early 2005, the US embassy announced that the Bush Administration was donating at least two helicopters to the AFM, type unknown, in 2006.

* In all fairness, it must also be pointed out that it was the previous Nationalist administration that had taken the first steps towards expelling NATO forces. With Malta serving as a base not only for Britain, but also for NATO’s Southern Command and the US Navy’s Sixth Fleet, it had asked first to be become a NATO member, which was refused, and then asked for an observer status. When this request was also refused, Dr. Gorg Borg Oliver, Nationalist Prime Minister, wrote to NATO to inform them of his decision to expel NATO forces, unless his request was reconsidered. However, he lost the 1971 general elections before he was able to take any such decision.
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