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Airfields


 

The birth of aviation in Malta is attributed to an Air Balloon Flight in 1904 when the Royal Engineers Balloon Unit visited Malta. The first page of Malta’s aviation history was written on 13 February 1915 when a Short Seaplane Type 135 No 136 performed its first flight in Malta taking off from the surface of the Grand Harbour waters.  The aircraft was lowered into the sea from HMS Ark Royal on February 13, 1915 and flew for 35 minutes. The role of the aircraft on Malta was to escort convoys & detect enemy submarines. 

  

This led to the establishment of a seaplane base at Calafrana (started late 1915) where by May 1916 hangers & spillways were already constructed. This base was later used during WWII.

During World War I Malta contributed by the construction of Flying Boat Planes at the Dockyard and by providing an invaluable sea base.

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The first step in Maltese aviation was taken in the 1920s when seaplanes, carrying one or two passengers and some mail from England and Italy, began landing in the military bases of Marsascala and Kalafrana.

The first commercial plane arrived from Italy in 1926. The airline Ala Littoria then started operating scheduled services from Naples to Syracuse, with the plane then flying on to Tripoli.  At the time the country had no proper airport and it was still some years before the old terminal at Luqa started being built. Indeed, it was in the 1950s that the British authorities started to discuss the building of a terminal at Luqa, which opened in 1958 and continued being extended until 1988, with the existent terminal opening in 1992.

The first civil airfield was constructed at Ta’ Qali, followed by others at Ħal Far and Luqa. During the Second World War, the airfields at Ta’ Qali and Ħal Far were severely battered and civil operations subsequently centred on Luqa airport.

The increase in passenger handling and aircraft movements necessitated the construction of a civil air terminal. Preparations started in 1956 and the British Government mainly financed what was then a Lm300,000 project. Malta’s new passenger air terminal at Luqa was inaugurated on March 31, 1958 by the then Governor of Malta Sir Robert Laycock. The air terminal consisted of two floors including some basic facilities such as a restaurant, a Post office, a Cable and Wireless office and a Viewing Balcony for the public.

Air traffic constantly increased and new airlines with larger aircraft started operations. The introduction of jet aircraft decreased flying times and consequently attracted more people to travel by air.

In October 1977, a new and longer runway was developed and works commenced on the extension and refurbishment of the air terminal. An arrivals lounge and another lounge dedicated for the VIPs were added and the original part of the terminal building was used for departures.

This refurbishment was not enough as it still lacked certain essential facilities. Following a  change in Government in 1987, the new administration decided that the 35-year old terminal was past its time and therefore gave the green light for the construction of a new air terminal along Park 9.

Until the construction of the new air terminal was completed, the Government embarked on a further upgrade of the old air terminal. The new facilities included air conditioning, new baggage carousels, flight information monitors, computerised check-in desks, a new floor surface and new retail outlets including a larger duty free area.

The foundation stone of the present air terminal was laid in September 1989 and inaugurated in record time 29 months later in February 1992. Malta International Airport became fully operational on March 25, 1992, and the old Luqa airport terminal was effectively closed down after 35 years.

Aviation timeline

• On 13 February 1915  a Short Seaplane Type 135 No 136 performed its first flight in Malta taking off from the surface of the Grand Harbour waters. 

• Kalafrana became the first airbase in Malta by 1922.

• The first airfield was built by the RAF in Ħal Far and inaugurated on January 16, 1923. It remained an important airfield until 1976.

• Two Italian companies – Società Anonima Navigazione Aerea and Ala Littoria – started regular services linking Malta to Italy and Libya in 1930.

• The RAF built three other airfields in Qrendi, Ta’ Qali and Luqa by 1946.

• Between 1946 and 1957 the Luqa air terminal played a dual role as Malta’s aviation air terminal and the RAF Officers’ Mess.

• 1946 also saw the setting up of Air Malta Ltd.

• Planning for a new aviation air terminal started in 1956. It was officially inaugurated on March 31, 1958.

• About 350,000 air passengers travelled to or from Malta in 1969, seven times the 50,000 that passed through the Luqa air terminal in 1960.

• A new runway was opened on October 1, 1977. All types of aircraft, including the Boeing 747 and the Concorde, could land on the new runway. The site for the new terminal had been cleared.

• The foundation stone for the new terminal was laid on September 22, 1989. The new terminal was opened on February 8, 1992. Malta International Airport became fully operational on March 25, 1992.

 

Luqa

35°51’32″N 014°28’40″E

In the beginning

imageLuqa Airport’s beginning dates back to the turbulent days of the Second World War.

In 1935 the RAF felt that the seaplane base at Kalafrana, and the other two small airfields at Hal-Far and Ta’ Qali, should have a supplementary airfield which would overcome all the bad weather problems that the other three suffered from. Thus it was designed from the start as an all-weather aerodrome.

The site chosen, at a height of 250ft above sea level, one and a half miles inland from Grand Harbour, was very hilly and contained many quarries from where the Maltese cut stone for building.

Work started early in 1939, consisting at first the of levelling the whole area. Luqa was to become Malta’s first tarmac airfield. In actual fact, the new aerodrome boasted three main runways, all surfaced with tarmac and a fourth one which was left unsurfaced until 1941.

The four runways were:

NE-SW 06/24 1200 yards x 850 yards x 50 yards tarmac strip

NW-SE 32/14 1200 yards x 850 yards x 50 yards tarmac strip

N-S 36/18 1100 yards x 800 yards x 5O yards tarmac strip (As from 1941. This runway is no longer in service)

E-W 09/27 1100 yards x 850 yards x 50 yards tarmac strip (This runway is no longer in service)

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By the end of April 1941 the NE-SW runway was extended to 1400 yards, while the NW-SE runway, which was extended to 1400 yards by December 1940, was further extended to 1740 yards by April 1941. Luqa airfield, destined as a base for RAF bombers, went into operation on 1st April 1940, although in June 1939 Flt. Lt. George Burges had made the first landing at this new airfield in a Swordfish aircraft.

In July 1940 a small Station Headquarters was established at the angle formed by the runways NE-SW and NW-SE, consisting of six Bellman hangars, barracks, offices, and a petrol store at back. The SE part of the airfield served as the bomb dump, while machine-gun posts were sited along the perimeter. A month later, in August 1940, Luqa became an independent station with a Wing Commander as its Station Commander. A few months later the RAF appointed a Group Captain Station Cdr., due to the recognised importance of Luqa. So much so that, by December 1940, Luqa was already serving as a base for Wellington bombers.

During the war, Luqa Airport played an important part in keeping away German and Italian aircraft and ships from approaching Malta. Several aircraft squadrons operated from Luqa to the extent that by November 1942 personnel at the station numbered 4350 (comprising among others 770 Army personnel and 600 civilians, including Maltese). Luqa was able to handle 24 Wellingtons by 1941.

The year 1943 saw Luqa as a base for reconnaissance and anti-submarine patrol aircraft. In 1943, RAF Luqa was decommissioned as an operational airfield and served the RAF solely as a major staging post. But it wasn’t to remain long in this role because, in April 1948, No.38 Squadron arrived on the station with its Lancasters.

After the war Luqa airfield settled down once again as a reconnaissance base, employing Meteors, Lancasters, and Shackletons. In 1956, due to the Suez Canal crisis, RAF Luqa was once again extremely busy due to its involvement in Operation Musketeer. Valiant and Canberra bombers operated against targets in the Egyptian Canal Zone.

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The British withdrawal

On 21 September 1964 Malta was granted independence by Great Britain.  Malta signed a ten-year defence agreement with the UK. After the 1971 elections the Government immediately expelled all NATO and US forces from the island and asked the British Government to withdraw its forces by 1 January 1972. The deadline was later extended to 15 March and then 31 March of the same year. Although negotiations were constantly being held, the Ministry of Defence initiated Operation Exit, the pull out of all service personnel out of Malta. No. 13 Squadron re-located to RAF Akrotiri, and No. 203, by now re-equipped with the Nimrod MR.1, took up station at NAS Sigonella in nearby Sicily. On 20 March, a Nimrod made a low pass over Luqa as the RAF Ensign was lowered for what was then thought to be the last time. However, a few days later, agreement over the rent money to be paid for the use of facilities in Malta was resolved. A new agreement, which would expire on 31 March 1979, was signed. No. 203 returned between 21-29 April supported by no less than 25 Hercules and 19 Belfast sorties. No. 13 returned later in October.

Updating the airport

Back in 1969, plans had started being drawn up on how to improve Luqa Airport, the more so since a new breed of wide-body airliners, like the B.747, were entering service, necessitating longer runways. Part of these plans called for the extension of a runway, and in May 1972, the Maltese Government started work on the extension of runway 14-32 (NW-SE). An Italian engineer, Sig. Mario Marra, took charge of the whole project, which got underway in May 1972 and took five years to complete.

Extended from 1781 yards to 3833 yards, the runway was inaugurated on 1 October 1977. The very first aircraft to land on it was an Air Malta Boeing 720B, AP-AMJ, when, in the late afternoon of 27th September 1977, it took off and made several touch-and-goes on the new runway. The first wide-body aircraft to land was an Alitalia DC-10, l-DYNL, on the inauguration day. The first Boeing 747 to use runway 14-32 was EI-ASI of Aer Lingus on October 22, 1977.

Luqa was decommissioned as a RAF station on 29th September 1978, for which a special programme was held. The RAF’s aerobatic team, the Red Arrows, the last time they would be seen with the Gnat, together with a number of other RAF front line aircraft like the Harrier and Jaguar, gave a spectacular display in front of a very large crowd. Air Chief Marshal, Sir David Evans KCB, CEB, RAF, was the reviewing officer.

The runway

Runway 14-32, extended from 1781 yards to 3833 yards, was inaugurated on 1 October 1977.

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In this aerial view of the airfield, the threshold of runway 32 is at the upper right. Going along to the runway, i.e. to the left, the large apron (roughly in the middle of the photo) is Park 9. Further left can be seen a smaller apron, this being Park 8. Also visible is the Air Malta hangar. Below the hangar, and slightly to the left, is what appears to be a large circle. That is the compass bay, an area free from any magnetic fields, to enable an aircraft’s compass to be properly calibrated. Immediately below the compass bay is the threshold of runway 14.

If you go to bottom right, you’ll see the threshold of runway 06. The darker part of the runway signifies the part that was extended during the fifties. To the left of the 06 threshold is the northern taxiway, and if you move along this, that large whitish area is park 4, where the majority of airshow participants are placed on static display. Further along the taxiway, and to the left, is park 3, and above that is a large concrete area with two hangars. This is park 2.  Interesting to note that there is actually a taxi-way from Park 3 to Park 2. This is because before the extension of 14/32, the threshold of 14 was very close to the fence.

Going back to the northern taxiway, just before turning left into Park 3, there is rectangular grey area, situated between the taxiway and runway 24/06, and is also directly below the compass bay. This used to form part of the old east-west runway mentioned earlier. Above this grey area, and at right angles to it, you can see what appears to be a road, starting from Park 2, and cutting across the northern taxi-way, and runway 24/06. This is what remains of the old north-south runway.

Civil Aviation

luqa airport2Although in those days Luqa had a total of eight parks for aircraft, only No. 8, with six parking bays, was dedicated solely to civil operations. (A ninth Park was added with the extension of runway 32/14.) The arrivals and departure lounges led directly onto this park, and an open-air viewing balcony, situated above and between bays 2 & 3, provided excellent facilities for aircraft photography, either when taxiing within the park — especially between bays 1 and 4, or when using runway 14.

 

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However, a foreign airline, soon after it started operating to Malta in the eighties, complained that this balcony was a security threat, and in 1985, the Government installed window panes.

In 1973, the Air Malta Company was set up, and shortly afterwards, a hanger was built for its aircraft on Park 8 towards bay 6. After the British departure, Air Malta also took over a hangar previously used by the RAF overlooking park 2.

In 1978, another aviation company began operations from Malta, this being Mediterranean Aviation, or Med-Avia.

That same year also saw the handing over of Hal-Far airfield to the Maltese Government, which affected two different bodies. The International Air Rally of Malta, which had been using Hal-Far since 1969, started using Luqa Airport as their venue.

imageFar more serious were the consequences for the Malta International Aviation Company, (MIACO), who were ordered to vacate their premises by September 1978. Finding an alternative site on an island measuring 17 miles by 9 would prove to be a bit problematic. The problem was eventually solved by moving into a hangar and buildings outside the village of Safi, previously used as a Maintenance Unit (MU) by the RAF. The site itself is located just outside the perimeter of runway 32/14. A gate was installed in the perimeter fence of Luqa Airport, and a taxiway leading from the runway to this gate was also constructed. For aircraft to enter or depart, airport security had to open the gate, and along with MIACO personnel, psychically stop traffic whilst an aircraft entered or departed company premises. Although MIACO went into voluntary liquidation in February 1985, the site is now used by two different companies, Med-Avia and NCA Int. In the late nineties, a traffic lights and barrier system went into operation, thus providing a more orderly and safer means of traffic control during aircraft entry/departures.

Another company that is involved in aircraft maintenance started operations as from 1 January 2003, when a new joint venture between Air Malta and Lufthansa Technik of Hamburg came into being. Lufthansa Technik (Malta) performs checks on B.737 and A.320 type aircraft. Apart from Lufthansa, other clients so far have included Spaniar and Travel Service.

After the departure of the British Armed Forces in 1979, Luqa Airport saw the AFM’s Helicopter Flight (since re-named Air Squadron), move to Park 7, previously the residence of the RAF’s No. 13 Squadron.

The Flight, at the time equipped with four Bell 47s and an AB.206, had been based at St. Patricks since its inception in 1972, and had made a brief sojourn to Hal-Far airfield prior to the British departure. It has since remained at Luqa, and an additional hangar has also been built.

Bell 47

General Aviation

This class of aviation has seen the highest registration of aircraft in Malta. One of the complaints by GA aircraft owners was the lack of hangar space, exposing the aircraft to the elements. For this reason  three different hangars have been constructed at Parks 1, 3 and behind the control tower. The last houses a number of micro-lights of the Island Microlight Club.

Air traffic Control

In preparation for the expected British withdrawal in March 1972, it was planned to bring Egyptian personnel to take over the running of ATC facilities. Most probably the 11th hour agreement with the British Government made such plans redundant.

By the sixties it became apparent that the control tower, situated between parks 1 and 2, was  too small for Luqa’s requirements. Probably, coupled with the Maltese government decision to widen and expand runway 14/32, a new control tower was built on the opposite side of park 8. Work started in 1971 and cost the British Government £Stg1.25 million. The tower was inaugurated on 24 September 1974.

Another “mini” control tower was built on Park 9, to ensure better safety and control of aircraft movements. It handles all aircraft movements within the park.

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Personnel

After the British departure in March 1979, controllers were given the option of either forming part of the ATC Corps of the Armed Forces of Malta or to leave – the purpose for forcing controllers to become part of a military unit being to eliminate the chances of a strike. Several left to continue with their careers abroad. The relationship between the AFM and the ATC Corps was never a happy one, and there were many occasions when ATC personnel were threatened with a court martial. Morale was always low and investment in new equipment, or training, was minimal.

This situation continued until 28 February 1995, when all ATC staff stopped working to show their disapproval at the Government-proposed reorganisation of the ATC. The situation lasted for around 35 hours during which the Malta Flight Information Region (FIR) was closed. A number of flights, for humanitarian reasons, were permitted to depart or land in Malta. Most of the problems were resolved after ATS representatives had talks with the Prime Minister. However their primary request, to become part a civilian unit, was not met. In the Budget speech of 1997, the Prime Minister of the day, announced that the ATC was to be demilitarised.

The ATC Corps ceased to exist on 30 April 1998, and on 1 May became the ATS Division of MIA (Malta International Airport) plc,. Not only was the staff freed from the threat of military discipline but working conditions improved. The right to strike, however, is still denied, as they provide what falls under the classification of an essential service.

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New Radar

In the meantime a new radar system, replacing the old Plessey AR1 approach radar at Luqa, complete with modern ancillary services, had been installed, and the ATS staff started working earnestly on this new system. It also resulted in a number of Italian Air Force PD.808s coming to Malta, to assist in the radar’s calibration. A new Area Control Centre had been built and operations transferred to the new ACC, which was inaugurated on 27 April 2001.

In 2001 a second radar was bought to replace the Secondary element of the Dingli enroute-radar. Works on this site started in April 2002. Not only was the secondary element replaced but also its Primary antenna was dismantled and refurbished. Both Secondary radars are Alenia Monopulse Secondary Surveillance Radars with a range of about 220 nautical miles and covering up to 50000 feet. This type provides extremely accurate position information due to the unique construction of the radar antenna. The old Selenia Primary Surveillance Radar at Dingli has a range of around 150 nm while the Luqa primary radar has only 60nm range to cover operations in the vicinity of Malta.

On 1 January 2002, MIA plc ceased to be the Air Traffic Service provider. Its functions have now been taken over by a dedicated company, the Malta Air Traffic Services Co. Ltd. Besides taking over all obligations and duties previously carried out by the ATS Division of MIA, MATS is actively involved in several international ATC projects. A group of ATS staff forms part of the project teams, conducting research and studies in future Communication, Navigation, Surveillance and Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) strategies. In addition, earlier in 2002 year, 2 Maltese controllers spent nearly 8 weeks in Rome, forming part of an international ATS team conducting radar simulations on these CNS/ATM projects.

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New Terminal

imageAnother development was the construction of a new civil terminal overlooking Park 9. The old terminal had been inaugurated on 1 April 1958. By 1991 the old civil terminal at park 8 had been enlarged.

Anticipated increases in passenger movements dictated the building of a more modern and suitable terminal. The foundation stone of the present air terminal was laid in September 1989 and inaugurated in record time 29 months later in February 1992. Malta International Airport became fully operational on March 25, 1992, and the old Luqa airport terminal was effectively closed down after 35 years.

imageAfter establishing a sound base through experience and investment, in July 2002 the Government of Malta sold 40% of its equity to the Malta Mediterranean Link Consortium Ltd., and eventually a further 40% to the general public thus opening a new chapter for MIA as it is now a fully-fledged privatised company with a vision to develop further the country’s main gateway.

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Luqa Airfield 2014

 MIA

Accidents

As with any other airport, Luqa has seen its share of tragedies. Apart from the Second World War, accidents have also occurred in peacetime.

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On Tuesday 30 December 1952 an Avro Lancaster B.Mk.III GR (SW344) crashed in New Street Luqa.

The crew of SW344 consisted of four flight sergeants: John C.E. Smith (pilot), Geoffrey Charles Glanville (co-pilot), John Crawford Logan (radio operator) and Wilfred Morris (flight engineer). Glanville was performing his first flight as captain. After engine start-up and routine checks, the Lancaster taxied down to line up on Runway 06, on the Siġġiewi (Ta’ Kandja) end of the airfield, and started rolling down the runway for take-off at 10.40am. Military personnel on site noticed that the inboard port Merlin engine was cutting out intermittently and eventually went dead just after the aircraft took to the air.

Sgt Smith took over command of the stricken Lancaster with the intention of going round on three engines to attempt an emergency landing. But by then the aircraft was flying below its minimum safety speed and very low while turning to starboard.

Very soon it was over Luqa and hit a house on the outskirts of the village which suffered extensive damage. It then cartwheeled down St George Street, hit three more houses until it burst into a ball of flames and flying debris into houses and gardens in New Street. All that happened in less than three minutes after the aircraft had started its take-off run.

The wing’s main spar ended on top of a low roof, three of the four engines were scattered over a wide area: one in the street, another fell into a house, while the third was later found in a garden some 200 metres away.

Stone masons rebuilding a war-damaged house ran for their lives as they saw a big chunk coming their way; it was the complete tail unit that ended on the ground floor roof.

The heat from the first flash of burning high-octane fuel melted the solder in several water pipes while trees and their fruit in the surrounding gardens were scorched black. Poultry wandered around dazedly in some back yards, spattered with hydraulic oil.

Flt Sgt Crawford Logan, the Lancaster’s radio operator, was certified dead on the spot. The other three crew members were taken to hospital, where Flt Sgt Glanville (who was flying the Lancaster that day) passed away a few hours later. Sgt Morris died the following day.

Pilot Smith, who had been taken to hospital in serious condition, two days later was reported to have improved slightly though still considered to be in danger of dying. Flt Sgt Smith, captain and sole surviving crew member of the Lancaster accident, went through a long rehabilitation programme. The trauma of the death of three of his mates and an innocent victim on the ground continued to haunt him for the rest of his life. He also continuously praised the help he and his wife had received from the Maltese community on his long road to recovery. The official inquest cleared him of all responsibility for the accident. He died at the young age of 47.

Lancaster Crash

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On October 14, 1975 Flying Officer E.G. Alexander was co-piloting a routine flight of a Vulcan XM645 bomber from the RAF base in Waddington, UK to Malta. He was not normally part of the crew, but the original co-pilot had asked to be replaced because his wife was about to give birth. This change in crew proved to be fatal.

The RAF’s official reports of the incident say the co-pilot was “imprudently” given leave by the captain, Flight Lieutenant G.R. Alcock, to do the first approach at Luqa. Fl. Off. Alexander was not adequately briefed on the problems of landing on a short runway, especially one with a slope.

The Vulcan was landing quite low and the aircraft  hit the undershoot and sheared off the undercarriage. It bounced back into the air some 20 feet or so and it then hit the runway again some 600 feet after the first impact. By this time the captain had taken over but instead of staying put and waiting for the fire engines to extinguish any possible fire, the captain decided to climb away again and attempt to do a circuit and crash land.  It was an ill-fated judgment and, as, a few seconds later, fire broke out on one of the wings and the bomber exploded in mid-air.

The captain and co-pilot ejected at the last moment and descended by parachute.

The curse of the Vulcans was that the rear crew members didn’t have ejector seats. They had to open the crew door, lower a ladder and bale out with their parachutes on. The five crew members, for unclear reasons, never managed this.

The deadly explosion occurred over Żabbar at lunchtime, claiming the life of Vinċenza Zammit, 48, who was walking in the town’s main road at the time. About 20 others were injured, some seriously.

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On 7 December 1978  an EE Canberra PR.7 (WT530)  from 13 Squadron  lost power after take-off from RAF Luqa due to fuel contamination. It crashed at Ta’ Kandja limits of Siggiewi.  The pilot and navigator ejected, but a third airman, occupying the jump seat, perished with the aircraft. The aircraft had arrived the previous day from RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus.

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As for civilian aircraft, the hi-jacking of a KLM B.747 in November 1973 caused a sensation. Not only was it the first such incident, but runway 24/06 wasn’t deemed safe for operations by such wide-bodied aircraft. It is to the crew’s credit that they did so without any damage to the aircraft or property on the ground. After negotiations with the Prime Minister of the day the passengers were released, and the aircraft departed Malta.

This episode was followed by a Libyan Arab Airlines F.27, 5A-DDU in October 1979, and a B.727, 5A-DII, also of L.A.A. In both cases, after negotiations, the hi-jackers surrendered, and the passengers released.

But by far the worst was the hi-jacking of an Egyptair B.737 in November 1985. The attempts by Egyptian commandos to storm the aircraft and rescue the passenger resulted in 60 deaths, and the capture of only one of the hijackers.

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Another incident, which had no casualties, was the Super Constellation, which had the false registration of 5T-TAF. This was impounded in Malta in 1968. After the pilots skipped bail and left Malta, the aircraft was sold in 1973. It was turned into a Bar & Restaurant by its new owners, something of a novelty in those days. Although it had closed for business several years before, talks were being conducted to acquire it for the Malta Aviation Museum at Ta’ Qali. Located a stone’s throw from the Med-Avia/NCA premises at Safi, it was regrettably destroyed in an arson attack in January 1997.

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Memorable Moments

Luqa Airport hasn’t only witnessed tragedy. Other memorable occasions in recent times include the holding of a summit between Presidents George Bush (Sr.) and Gorbachov in December 1989, which brought a flurry of US military aircraft activity to Malta. Other aviation highlights would be the setting up of Air Malta and the large number of aircraft it leased, the number of British-registered Heralds, Viscounts and HS.748’s leased by Tunisavia, (amongst other aircraft types), the seven Zimbabwean-registered Turbo-Trushes in 1988, the number of Caribous seen when NCA first started operations in 1986, the various aircraft seen by foreign heads of state for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held in November 2005, and of course, the annual Airshow.

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Safi

35°50’30″N 014°29’30″E

Runway: E-W – 1200meters/3600feet – grass
Runway: NW-SE – 1200meters/3600feet – grass

Safi air field, or more precisely the airstrips at Safi, was an auxiliary airfield to RAF Luqa and RAF Hal Far.

It was constructed from 1941 by order of Air Commodore Maynard, who foresaw that both airfields would become a prime bombing target during World War II.

Initially seen only as a way of dispersing aircraft from both airbases, and constructed by the Malta Police Force along the road between Luqa and Hal Far, it soon became its own runways.

The airstrips, located just under 2miles from Luqa airfield, were completed in February 1942.
The airstrips and their aircraft pens proved vital to the survival of aircraft in the severe bombings of 1942.

Later the Hampshire Regiment finished the work, strenghtening and improving the pens with earth-filled petrol cans and stone from bombed buildings.

Although the pens were numbered, new pilots finding their way around usually experienced difficulty in doing so.

Safi airfield in relation to RAF Luqa (above) during World War II. It is pretty easy to see how Safi became part of Luqa simply by connecting the two runways into a single long one.

Soon after the war was over the airstrips fell into disuse.

Some of the land was returned to the original owners, and later the lenghtening of the main runway at Luqa went straight over the location of the airfield.

Not much remains of the site, with the exception of a few hangars and nissen huts opposite the Luqa terminal building.

The nissen huts Are still being used by the 3rd Regiment AFM.

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RAF Hal Far (HMS Falcon)

image35°48’51″N 014°30’39″E

Runway: 09/27 – 1550x45m/4,800x150ft – concrete (CLOSED)
Runway: 13/31 – 1950x45m/6,000x150ft – concrete (CLOSED)

Air field Hal Far (also known as RAF Hal Far, RNAS Hal Far or ‘HMS Falcon’)  was a British air base.

The airfield was constructed in 1922 and on 16 January 1923 it was opened by the Governor of Malta, Lord H. Plumer.

The airfield was built to complement the sea plane base at RAF Calafrana and being the first land based airfield it was simply named ‘Malta’.

It took a full year before the first aircraft landed at the airfield.

Until the 1930s, Hal Far served as the Maltese landing site for all civilian and military landplanes.

In 1928 Hal Far underwent extension work in order to accommodate flying boats and to facilitate construction hangars and workshops it was enlarged and improved.

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The airfield was taken over by the RAF, and a Station Flight with Fairey IIIFs was formed.

The Fleet Air Arm, however, continued to use RAF Hal Far as RNAS Hal Far as a shore-base for its carrier-based aircraft.

The strategic importance of Hal Far, and eventually Malta, was proven when Italy declared the Abyssinian War on 27 September 1935.

On 23rd November 1936 a whirlwind hit RAF Hal Far causing irrepairable damage to hangars and many aircraft, including some from HMS Hermes and HMS Eagle.

The outbreak of World War II saw Hal Far literally void of good aircraft that could withstand enemy attacks.

When Air Commodore Maynard took charge in January 1940 he found the total ‘strength’ consisted of four Swordfish aircraft, a handful of Sea Gladiators and a radio-controlled Queen-Bee.

The E-W runway was extended by January 1941 to 2,700 feet.

A year later the NE-SW runway had been increased to 3,300x600feet and extensions were underway for the N-S and E-W runways to be completed by October 1941, with widths varying from 450 to 600 ft.

Orders had been given in October 1941 to further increase the NW-SE runway to 6000feet as the airfield was still unsuitable for use by bombers.

All installations were listed on the northern corner, such as barracks, offices and quarters, wireless and direction finding stations, flight shed, Bellman Hangar and a transportable hangar.

Later a torpedo store was located on the noth-west corner together with petrol storage for 12,000 gallons.

The bomb store was at the southern end of the NE/SW runway.

Due to strategic importance, the airfield was the target of many italians and later German air attacks. For instance, Hal Far was dive-bombed by no less than twenty Junkers Ju87 Stukas on 15 September, 1940. Throughout 1941, Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires operated non-stop from the airfield against enemy aircraft and shipping.

Several runways underwent extensions, and work was completed early in 1942.

The increasing number of air crashes around Malta brought about the need of a SAR flight which was formed in 1943, initially operating a single Supermarine Walrus, but later adding a Bristol Beaufort, two Vickers Wellingtons and the last remaining Swordfish of 830 Squadron, coded ‘P’.

On 21 May 1943, RAF Hal Far suffered its last attack, resulting in a total amount of 2300 tons of bombs dropped on the airfield, killing 30 persons and injuring 84 others.  By summer the airfield served as a staging post for a great number of Spitfires and Curtiss Kittyhawks of various squadrons, in preparation to the Alied landings in Sicily.

Spitfires continued to be the backbone of Hal Far’s aircraft strength, but in 1944, planes from the Fleet Air Arm began coming in at great numbers with aircraft-carriers deploying their flights to Hal Far.

Such was the influx of FAA aircraft, that Hal Far was decommissioned as an RAF base and on 14 April Hal Far became officially known as HMS Falcon.

Malta received Winston Churchill, F.D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin in January 1945 for the Malta Conference.  They were protected by 9 Spitfires and 6 Mosquitos operating from Hal Far.

On 5 April  1946 round  11:15am  a Vickers Wellington bomber was engaged in exercises with a Spitfire fighter. Both aircraft took off from Hal Far.  The fighter was using the Wellington as a dummy target and the Wellington was to take evasive action. When the bomber was between 4,000 and 5,000 feet altitude, it turned to port and started diving at 20 degrees. It kept on loosing altitude till it crashed into houses in the centre of Rabat (St Publius Str). No distress signal was transmitted to either the fighter pilot or ground control. The probable cause of the accident was leakage of hydraulic fluid which somehow heated and released fumes in the cockpit rendering the crew unconscious. Fatalities –  crew: 4; civilians on the ground: 16

In the 1950s Hal Far received new runways to handle jet aircraft and became host to so-called ‘summer-camps’ of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Air Divisions.  These ‘summer-camps’ occurred between 1950 and 1956 and involved many flying and bombing exercises.

In 1957 it briefly became a civilian airport again when Luqas runways needed resurfacing.
In August 1965 it became an RAF airfield again, until its last flying unit, a helicopter squadron was disbanded on 31 August 1967

After the departure of the RAF, Hal Far was placed on a ‘care and maintenance’ status as a satellite for Luqa.

The move ended 43 years of RAF activity on Malta’s oldest and most historical airfield.
However, between March 1967 and its ultimate closure as an airfield it continued to serve.
For 10 years it was a base for the American aircraft maintenance company MIACo.  In addition it was home to the fledgling Air Wing of the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM), consisting of 3 ex-Lybian Alouette III helicopters.

The Maltese Government planned to convert Hal Far airfield into an industrial area, so MIACo was asked to vacate its hangars and offices by September 1978.  Construction of the industrial area began around 1982, when the first company began building on the east side of runway09.

Both runways were dug up and further development of the area reduced the airfield to a scar on the land.

Runway 13/31 is currently being used by the Malta Drag Racing Association as a quarter mile dragstrip.

Runway 09/27 is now a public road linking the various sections of the industrial area.
The control tower and the officer’s quarters are still intact, together with a few Nissen huts.
The kitchens and mess halls, the electricians and radio section cabin are still standing, but in a worrying state.

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Photo submitted by Andrew Kaci Hili and Ivor Ramsden with this description:

“This is Hal Far detention center at end of runway and probably these buildings are still there. Also it must be before 1964 when it was still a Royal Navy base because of the types of vehicles there, especially the chequered Bedford QL truck which was used by the Navy at Hal Far.
The trees are Carob trees (Ħarrub) and the buildings also to be Maltese. The vehicles in the photo are an Austin Utility in the background, a Bedford QL (with chequered paintwork), a circa 1956 Thornycroft Nubian Minor Sun Fire-Crash Tender, and a 1955 Land Rover Series one 107″
The plane is the Vulcan prototype XV770 which was here on tropical trials. Of particular interest, this VX770 prototype sadly crashed at Syreston which, it is believed, was caused by the leading edge failure and that as well as the loss of the RR Flight test crew, some of the personnel in a control caravan were also killed.”


Ta`Qali

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35°53’42″N 014°25’15″E

Runway: 13/31 – 1550x45m/4,800x150ft – concrete

Airfield Ta`Qali (also known as RAF Ta`qali, Taqali, Takali or Ta Kali) was a military airfield on the island of Malta.

The airfield was constructed just before the outbreak of World War II on the bed of an ancient lake situated on the flat cultivated plain which stretches between Rabat and Valletta.  Casa Bertrand was demolished to make way for the runway.

Pre-war it had been used by civil airlines, but its grassy surface, like Hal Far, deteriorated quickly in bad weather making it unusable.

Its Maltese name Ta’ Qali was soon changed by the RAF to Taqali and then Takali, although it is now usually known by it’s original Maltese name.

The surface of the field had a slight slope from NE-SW and the grass-covered surface becoming baked earth in the summer.

Four runways were laid out at the airfield: N-S at 2,550feet, E-W at 3,300feet, NE-SW at 2,550feet and NW-SE at 2,940feet.

The NW-SE runway was extended early in 1941 to 3,600feet, but its width remained at a mere 45feet compared with 90feet for the other directions.

A Bellman Hangar and offices were situated at the south-eastern corner and four double aircraft shelters were cut in the hillside on the nothern boundary.

By the time Italy joined hostilities in June 1940 obstructions were positioned around the airfield to prevent airborne landings.

On 30th October instructions were received at Hal Far from HQ Mediterranean Command for Wing Commander J R O’Sullivan to proceed to the airport with a small HQ staff.  He was tasked to form a one-squadron fighter station there.

On 8th November 1940 the airport became RAF Station Ta’ Qali, with 261Sqn moving in from Luqa on 20th November.  In May 1941 249Sqn arrived from the UK to replace 261Sqn.  249Sqn was to become the top scoring squadron on Malta and claimed the 1000th enemy aircraft to fall to the Malta defences.

Ta’ Qali airfield was subjected to heavy bombing during the course of the war.

Ta`Qali was transferred to the Fleet Air Arm on 1 April 1945 as HMS Goldfinch for use by a Fleet Requirements Unit.  It was returned to the RAF on 9 June 1953.

During it’s final RAF years it was used mainly for the proficiency training of RAF fighter and bomber crews.

The airfield was handed over to the Maltese Government in 1963 and was subsequently closed in April 1968.

Since the departure of the RAF, the location has been transformed into a recreational area and National Park.  Ta`Qali National Park includes an amphitheatre, where a number of international rock concerts have been staged.  Today, many of the military huts and buildings have been converted into workshops where Maltese craftsmen produce their handiwork, and Ta`Qali Crafts Village has become an important tourist attraction.

There is also a the Malta Aviation Museum where different types of aircraft related to Maltese aviation history can be found.  The hill side shelters still exist and can be found in a hillside near the Malta Aviation Museum Hangar.  In 2011 the Malta Aviation Museum managed to clear parts of the northwest side of the runway.

On 9 December 2011, for the first time in over 40 years, an aircraft landed on the concrete when the Malta Aviation Museum’s airworthy Tiger Moth flew into it’s new home.  A section of the original runway at Takali has been reactivated and will be used by the Tiger Moth.

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Ta Qali Casa Bertrand

Ta Qali Levelling

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Qrendi

krendi_crest35°50’24″N 014°27’36″E

Runway: 09/27 – 1100x45meters/3,300x150feet – concrete (CLOSED)
Runway: 13/31 – 1175x45meters/3,543x150feet – concrete (CLOSED)

Qrendi airfield was built as a second satellite airfield two-and-three-quarter miles south-west of Luqa aifield on Malta

Construction began in 1940, with two runways approximately 1200x50yds (with 25yd grass strips on either side).

Construction of RAF Station Krendi began in 1940.

The airfield was opened as Air Station Krendi on 10 November 1942 by Air Vice Marshall Sir Keith Park by buzzing the airfield in his Hurricane while wearing his traditional white helmet.  Soon it was nicknamed the airfield ‘perched alongside of a cliff’ for its proximity to the Maltese shore.

Over time, the airfield housed a total of 3 Spitfire squadrons involved in interdiction and reconnaissance work over Sicily before the actual invasion of that island.

The aerodrome was an important site for converting the Spitfire into a fighterbomber, using two 500lb bombs under its wings.  Initially they would dive bomb their targets after which they would support escorting aircraft in a strafing role.  All three squadrons had relocated to Hal Far by 24 September 1943.

Although its runways remained in use (several emergency landings were made at the station) it no longer had flying units attached.  Instead, it became HQ of 284Wing in December 1945.

It is not certain when the airstation stopped being an active airfield.  It was home to the RAF Malta Meteorological Office until the British left Malta.   Today the airfield is only recognisable from the air. Most of the buildings have been converted for other uses.  The aifields E/W runway has been built up, and the NW/SE runways was converted into a road.

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Calafrana

35°49’00″N 014°31’52″E

RAF Calafrana was a seaplane base in the harbour of Calafrana, east of RAF Hal Far.  Although Calafrana predates Hal Far, the latter was much better known.

Work on what became known as the Kalafrana seaplane base started in 1915 and progressed into 1916 with the construction of hangars and slipways. At the end of 1916 5 Curtiss H4 ‘America’ flying boats arrived from Felixtowe.   23 more (of the F3 variant) were constructed at Malta from kits.  The first (hull# N4310) was completed in November 1917, followed by # N4311-N4321 and N4360-N4370.

During the 1930s and World War II Shorts Sunderlands of 228Sqn operated from RAF Kalafrana.  The base was also home to a Walrus SAR flying boat.

Kalafrana remained in use with the RAF at least until 1960, although it had no longer flying units attached. The last air movements had been in 1946. Instead converted Motor Torpedo Boats with large RAF roundels and serials were used for SAR. They were operating from what had by now become a Royal Navy base. After the British ended their military presence on Malta Kalafrana was redeveloped into a Freeport container terminal. RAF Kalafrana was completely buried, and nothing remains of the former airbase

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Kalafrana Base

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Mistra Bay

35°57’29″N 014°23’23″E

Mistra Bay is a sheltered peaceful inlet northeast of Xemxija and close to the Mistra Battery.

The area has a long history going back to Phoenician and Roman rule and there are burial, refuge and shelter caves.

Before and during World War II, Mistra Bay was used as an alternative base for the RAF’s Sunderlands (Sea Planes, flying boats) during bad weather.

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Marsa

35°52’30″N 014°29’16″E

Marsa airfield was an airfield on Malta.  Construction began in 1915, after two Royal Navy battleships, HMS Triumph and HMS Majestic, were sunk by German submarines in the Mediterranean on 6 May 1915.  Soon after, the Admiralty gave its permission to construct an anti-submarine sea-plane base in Malta.

This airfield became known as Calafrana, but as this was a seaplane base, it left the wish for a land based airfield on Malta because of the frequent rough seas around Malta.  The airfield was opened in the summer of 1918 to allow operations by two De Havilland DH9As of 562 (Malta Anti-submarine) Flight.

The end of World War I meant an end to this operation, and 562 Flight disbanded in early 1919.

The previous December however had seen an event that needed an airfield for the largest aircraft of the RAF at the time.

The third prototype of the Handly Page V/1500 long range bomber was used by the RAF to prove it could fly from England to India, at the time an English colony. Its interior had been converted in such a way it could serve as an airliner, carrying 9 passengers on this particular flight although it could have carried 40.

This J1936, Old Carthusian, went on to record two significant ‘firsts’. On 13 December 1918, the bomber, flown by Major A.C.S. Maclaren and Captain Robert Halley, accompanied by Brigadier General N.D.K. McEwan, made the first ever ‘through-flight’ from England to India. Taking off from Britain the aircraft flew via Rome, Malta, Cairo, and Baghdad, finally reaching Karachi on 15 January 1919.

The same aircraft played a pivotal role in ending the Third Anglo-Afghan War. On 25 May 1919, flying from Risalpur piloted by Captain Halley and with Lt E. Villiers as observer, the V/1500 reached Kabul in three hours. Of its payload of four 112 lb (51 kg) bombs on improvised bomb racks removed from B.E.2cs and 16 20 lb (10 kg) bombs carried in the fuselage and dropped by hand, four bombs hit the royal palace. Although the bombing did little physical damage, it had a great psychological impact on the citizens – the ladies of the royal harem rushed onto the streets in terror, causing great scandal. A few days later King Amanullah sued for peace, bringing an end to the war after less than one month of hostilities. However the aircraft after having flown this single war mission to Afghanistan its wings fell victim to termites.  It remained the largest aircraft to land at Malta for many years.

Today the airfield is only faintly recognisable from the air.  Immediately after the war the airfield was rebuilt into a sports field, with horse and running tracks, tennis courts and a golf course. It is unsure why the British opted for Hal Far when they began looking for a new airfield 4 years later.

marsa1 1940-1945

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Ta’ Lambert – Gozo

36°01’53″N 014°16’04″E

Air field Ta’ Lambert was an airfield in Xewkija on the island of Gozo in Malta.  The airfield was built when the Allies needed more runways and parking area in preparation for the invasion of Sicily in 1943.  Tower of Gorgion was demolished to make way for the temporary airfield.  It was a 14th century tower used by the Grandmasters as a summer residence

Nobody really knows why up to that time the island of Gozo had not had any airfields, while there were 7 on the (larger) island of Malta.

The United States mililtary looked into the possibilities, and kindly asked the bishop of Gozo (Mgr Gonzi) for permission to build one.

They chose the Ta Lambert site, and cleared the terrain in 6 days. In one and a half weeks two runways had been prepared.

The first unit based there was the United States of America Air Force, 307, 308 and 309 Squadrons under Colonel Fred M. Dean. However, after the invasion of Sicily and subsequent successes by the Allied Forces, it was no longer needed and the land was handed back to its original owners by June 1944.

It is not known how many aircraft used the airfield, but a local source claims there were hundreds.

Ta’ Lambert airfield was closed down after only six weeks of intensive use.

One of the landing strips has been obliterated by the road from Mgarr to Victoria but the other one is still there.  It is overgrown with rubble and odd bits of machinery but not used either for agriculture or horticultural uses. The terrain is still owned by the Maltese government.

A note by Carmel J. Attard

In the early months of 1943, the allies made a decision of great magnitude, one that was unstoppable and was to have grave consequences. With “Operation Husky” the fate of Italy has been sealed. Invading occupied Europe from the south meant that a plan was set for the landing attack on Sicily, which will open its way for the rest of the continent. This was the selected time when the Air Battle over Malta was truly won with over 1000 enemy aircraft lost over the central Mediterranean island and the surrounding sea. As a result it was natural that the island was chosen as the initiating base for the attack.

General George Patton had to rely on a strong aerial support that could maintain superiority at all time. Escort fighters as the Spitfire had to be based closer to the operation zone owing to their restricted range. The massive airfield infrastructure in Malta included Hal-Luqa, Ta’Qali, Hal-Safi, il-Qrendi and Hal-Far. In spite of so many airfields over the island, congestion was going to be inevitable due to strong RAF presence and the USAAF required space as well. The ‘unsinkable aircraft carrier’ as Winston Churchill dubbed the island, had no more space for new airfields being built and the only solution was to turn to Gozo, a hilly territory that forms part of the Maltese archipelago.

Lord Gourt then the Governor of Malta along with Air Vice Marshal Sir Keith Park and a number of American and British military engineers carried out a survey to locate a suitable site on the tiny island. Xewkija village offered the best solution for the 200 acres required. Local farmers gave up the fertile land on temporary basis and in return adequate remuneration was offered in compensation for loss of produce. Sir Keith Park asked for assistance from American engineers as the invasion of Sicily was imminent and the airfield needed to be active in a very short time. The 21st Engineer Aviation Regiment of the USAAF arrived on the 6th of June 1943 from Tunisia and unloaded their heavy equipment at

Marsalforn Bay. The unit consisted of just over 200 personnel with equipment transported on nine landing craft with tanks, 24 tractors, and three bulldozers among others. This vast amount of modern equipment was the envy of British engineers who could never in their wildest dreams ever think that such equipment could find its way on the remote island of Gozo. There were some 200 local Gozitans who gave a helping hand with the construction of the airfield. These along with Americans worked from early in the morning till late in the evening so much so Sir Keith Park was surprised with the quality and speed with which the project was being undertaken. He ordered the construction of a second airfield of same dimensions as the first one. These also contained revetments and hard standing for at least 76 combat aircraft.

Just like the present day summers, throughout the construction period of the runways, dust was the menace and the ground had to be sprayed with seawater and rolled regularly. The 3rd of June marked the first aircraft to touch down in Gozo. One of several flown was the Supermarine Spitfire Vc from the Squadron 31st Fighter Group USAAF. The Group had 3 Squadrons: 307, 308 and 309 that crossed from Tunisia via Hal-Safi in Malta. A considerable sized airfield was built in 18 days, which was an engineering achievement in itself. The full strength of the Spitfire

provided most able contribution on the 10th of July, the day of the Sicilian invasion. The Xewkija airfield served as a launch pad for the USAAF fighters and also as an emergency landing strip. In five days the allies had a good foothold on the Sicilian soil and soon afterwards the US contingent in Gozo moved to liberated airfields in Sicily and Southern Italy. Following that and for a brief period the airfield also served as a staging post for Piper Cub L-4 crossing from North Africa to Sicily. By August the airfield has fallen into disuse and by June 1944 it was restored to its original fertile land and handed back to its original owners.

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Xewkija Heliport

36°01’38″quot;N 014°16’19″E

Runway: 10/28 – 174meters/571feet – concrete

The heliport, located only a few dozen yards/meters south from Ta Lambert, was opened in 1990.

Xewkija Heliport, or Gozo Heliport (ICAO: LMMG), is a small heliport on the island of Gozo in Malta, near Xewkija.

It has two 22 meter wide helipads, connected by asphalt, forming a small 174 meter long runway.

Malta Air Charter’s helicopter service operated between Malta International Airport and the Gozo Heliport from 1990 to 2004

From March 2005 until October 2006 the flights were done by Helicópteros del Sureste.

Currently, no scheduled flights take place from the heliport. However, Heli Link Malta offers flights between the heliport and Malta on request.  It is being examined if the current short runway could be expanded to allow fixed wing aircraft STOL to land at Xewkija.

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Crests of RAF Bases in Malta

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Photo credits
https://www.facebook.com/bayretro
http://www.maltaspotting.com/

 

20 responses to “Airfields

  1. Jeremy Osborne

    May 25, 2015 at 8:12 am

    Very interesting. I was stationed at RAF Luqa mid 1975 – 1978. I have fond memories of my time in Malta. I must go back someday but I expect that all will have changed beyond recognition!

     
    • vassallomalta

      May 25, 2015 at 8:38 am

      You will be surprised how many things are the same at RAF Luqa

       
  2. Amerigo

    November 21, 2014 at 11:55 am

    Sad to see how little consideration has been given to the Italian contribution to the development of modern aviation in Malta. Few lines remembering Mr. Marra, one of the most important engineers devoted to airport projecting, no mention about the contribution of the Italian military mission in building the airport neither the memorable display of the “Frecce Tricolori” (at that time still flying the G 91) on the inauguration ceremony of the brand new Luqa 13-31 rwy , ceremony held on 1st october 1977, at the presence of H.E. Anton Buttiggieg, President of the Republic of Malta.
    But over all, not a word about the long standing cooperation between the AFM and the IMM in granting long range/all weather SAR ops with joint Italo/Maltese crews flying first the Italian Air force AB204 and, since 1987, the HH212 helo, with a total of about 16.000 hours flown and more than 300 people rescued/saved. I know that Gypo break is an outstanding aerobatics figure (I love Reds too) but many other Teams painted Malta’s skies with their smokes and would have been kind remember all those guys driving strange flying machines over this beautiful land.

     
 
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