Libyan pilots and technicians have arrived in Malta to return to Libya two Mirage F1 fighters that were flown to the island by defecting pilots in February last year.
A Libyan Air Cargo Antonov An-26 carrying Libyan personnel and equipment arrived in Malta on Monday to restore the aircraft to airworthy status. According to the Times of Malta, the aircraft may be flown back sometime next month, either on February 17, the day the Libyan uprising started, or February 21, when the aircraft were flown to Malta after their pilots refused orders to bomb civilians near Benghazi.
The F1s were armed with 68 mm unguided rocket pods and arrived in the Mediterranean nation without seeking permission. The Times of Malta reports that the aircraft were disarmed by Royal Air Force technicians soon after they landed, and were subsequently disabled by technicians from Dassault in spite of calls from the Gaddafi government to have them returned.
The pilots (Ali Al Rabti and Abdullah al Salheen) returned to Libya in September to a heroes’ welcome shortly after Tripoli was liberated.
On September 25 last year one of the Mirage F1s, on display at Malta International Airport as part of the Malta Airshow, had its all-green roundels replaced by the new Libyan colours during a ceremony carried out by Libyan Air Force Brigadier General Mohammed Rajab and the Libyan ambassador.
Rajab had flown to Malta aboard an Air Libya BAe 146, which during the fighting in Libya had been used on 32 covert flights to supply arms and ammunition and fly out wounded fighters.