“I was posted to 8 Squadron at the beginning of October 1963. Sqn Ldr Tammy Syme was the Boss and I was to take over from Jock McVie as OC ‘A’ Flt. The other Flt Cdr was Gordon Talbot and the Engineering Officer was Owen Truelove who led an excellent bunch of groundcrew and who managed to keep us flying when lesser mortals would have failed; no mean feat when we were a long way from home and at the end of the list for spares. We were only in Aden for ten days and then we left for the two month detachment to Bahrein. It was the start of a very interesting and busy period in the history of 8 Squadron.”
Graham was one of only a few Hunter pilots to have had prior experience of flying over Aden and this occurred while he was serving with 54 Squadron from 1958 to 1960. “We deployed four aircraft from El Adem (where we were on exercise) to Khormaksar in 1960. They were flown by Sqn Ldr Ian Worby (OC 54), Wg Cdr Bennet (OC Flying at Stradishall, our home base), Flt Lt Chris Bruce and yours truly. We stayed in Aden for 3 days (1 April to 4 April). The Boss and the Wg Cdr flew an operational sortie with 8 Sqn whilst Chris and I remained in the bar. We had our own ground crew with us and unbeknown to me they took the leading edges off my aircraft and filled them with cigarettes. I had the last laugh because Chris and I went u/s in Khartoum on the way back and the aircraft were left baking in the sun for three days. The cigarettes were totally unsmokable! I remember it all as thought was yesterday; unfortunately it was over 50 years ago!
This is a little tale concerning a ferry trip carried out in August 1965. As was the custom every two months or so, we would take a couple of old Hunters back from Aden to the UK for refurbishment and pick up a couple of new ones. On this particular occasion I had to pick up a new Hunter T.7 (XF321) and my number 2, a certain Flt Lt Richard Johns of 1417 Flt, had a brand new Hunter FR.10 as his mount. The T.7 had 4 x 100 gallon tanks and the FR.10 had the usual 2 x 230 plus 2 x 100 gallon tanks. The discrepancy in performance between the two aircraft was quite marked and the FR.10 on my wing could easily out perform my aircraft despite the significantly greater weight.
All went well for the first five legs, Kemble to Lyneham to clear customs, Lyneham to Istres, Istres to Luqa, Luqa to Akrotiri and finally, Akrotiri to Diyarbakir. It is a long time since I have been to Diyarbakir but in those days to describe it as a dump was being kind. It was somewhere in the middle of Turkey in the back of beyond with only very basic facilities; not a place that any sane man would schedule a night stop. Some years before I had been arrested at Diyarbakir when ferrying a Hunter T.7 (XF310) out to the Far East, when they claimed that I had landed there without diplomatic clearance. On that occasion a very stressed USAF exchange pilot – they were flying F-84s at the time – had very kindly rescued me from my predicament. He was in fact the only man who spoke English (after a fashion) and went everywhere with an interpreter. He must have done something very bad to get such a punishment posting. But I was under no illusions; this time I did not want to stop at Diyarbakir under any circumstances.
We refuelled and taxied out for take-off. And that was when I discovered that I could not get the T.7 into power controls. Every time I selected ailerons and elevator into power, the dolls eyes remained white. Flying a Hunter in manual control is an emergency situation although it cannot be said to be that difficult. The controls are extremely heavy and usually require two hands on the stick. We did use to practice manual landings from time to time; but manual take-offs were not in the pilots’ notes. So I am taxiing out and wondering quite what to do. My instinct was to avoid going unserviceable at Diyarbakir, but I did not like to say anything over the radio to Dick Johns, my thoughts tending to anticipate the subsequent Board of Inquiry. The less anybody knew about what I was about to do, the better.
So I committed myself to a manual take-off, not a recommended practice or one that I had ever tried before. In fact I don’t know of anyone who has tried it, although I am prepared to bet there a few who have done it inadvertently. The only aspect that worried me was where to put the elevator trim. Too much tail up and I might not be able to control the pitch-up. Too little and I would have trouble getting the nosewheel off the ground. However, Diyarbakir’s runway was quite long and I guessed that I would have time to get airborne even if I had too little tail up trim. So I erred in that direction so that I would avoid the pitch up which could definitely be embarrassing. Off we went down the runway and, quite apart from the inferior performance of the T.7, it became clear to Dick that nothing much seemed to be happening with regard to getting airborne. After a while he gave up any attempt to remain on my wing and accelerated past me into the air. I actually got airborne just at the end of the concrete in a flurry of dust, sorted out the trim, raised the undercarriage and flaps and climbed nonchalantly away.
It was not until we had landed at Tehran that I was able to tell him what the problem was. And because there was no one to rectify the problem at Tehran, I had to do the next leg in manual as well. But this time Dick was prepared for the take off and I had in any case learnt from the first manual take off what to expect. When we got to Muharraq, I managed to find a knowledgeable technician who took one look at it and diagnosed blown fuses; which indeed it was. So we were able to continue our way on to Khormaksar, via Masirah, in fairly good order. It was not a trip that I shall forget. Indeed ferry trips hardly ever failed to test ones ingenuity, resourcefulness and initiative. They were always a challenge and also great fun; you never failed to learn a thing or two!”
Although not strictly within the bounds of the website objectives, I thought that as this fascinating story concerned a Hunter ferry flight that passed through MEAF territory, it should be included (author).
It was autumn 1961 and I had been an instructor at 229 Operational Conversion Unit based at Chivenor for nearly a year flying Hunters. We had started with Mk.4s and we had just reequipped with Mk.6s, there being a plethora of such aircraft around as the Sandys cuts of 1957 had just about had their full effect and the front line fighter squadrons of the RAF had been decimated. Sandys, then the Minister of Defence, had predicted with great prescience that the day of the manned fighter had finished and that henceforth missiles were the answer to everything. I was grateful and lucky to still have a job flying fighters, so I was not in a position to complain. And Chivenor was a pretty good place to be in those days even though the Mess was just a series of Nissen huts and the art of keeping a coke stove going in one’s room required some practice and skill. However I did have a unique place on the squadron; I was the only bachelor.
So when the Boss walked in one morning and said that he had to provide two pilots to ferry aircraft to Tengah, I do not recall getting very much choice in the matter. It was a case of who was going to volunteer to go with me. After some hesitation Tony Park said he would, somewhat reluctantly, accompany me to make sure I did not get into too much trouble. The task was to take the last two aircraft of 20 Sqn, who were in the process of reforming in the Far East, as the squadron did not have enough pilots to ferry all of their aircraft. One was a Mk.9 aircraft and the other was a Mk.7, their two seat trainer. There were a couple of extra twists to this arrangement. Firstly the right hand seat of the T.7 was to be filled by a staff officer from Fighter Command who “wanted to come along for the experience” – which was code for a good wheeze to escape the office for a couple of weeks and get in a few rounds of golf in Singapore – and the other twist was that the Fleet Air Arm wanted to take advantage of the flight and add a Hunter T.8 to the formation. The T.7 and the T.8 were virtually identical except for cockpit instrumentation and they had no navigation aids except DME, a device which gave you the range to a beacon assuming that there was such a thing en route and that you could actually get it to lock on. With 4 x 100 gallon droptanks, they had a range of about 1000 nautical miles. The Mk.9 had DME and a radio compass, and came with 2 x 230 gallon and 2 x 100 gallon drop tanks giving it a range of about 1400 nautical miles.
Tony and I moved to St Athan in South Wales to prepare for this epic journey and started to collect all the necessary maps and get the various diplomatic clearances. St Athan was a Maintenance Unit where new aircraft were stored and prepared although I had to go and collect the Mk.7 from Kemble. I remember it well because when the day dawned it was blowing a gale, 40 knots straight across the runway at Kemble which was way outside the crosswind limit of the Vampire T11 in which the St Athan resident MU test pilot, Yank Jankiewicz, was going to take me. I demurred but Yank insisted that it was not a problem and that limits were not written for pilots of his ability. So we went; and he carried out one of the hairiest landings I have ever experienced in a Vampire, about 20 knots faster than normal and on one wheel for half of the landing run. But he kept it on the runway and I collected our T.7, XF310.
Then there was the question of who was going to fly the T.8. In those days all the FAA delivery and ferry flights were done by a bunch of civilian contract pilots based at Rochester. The problem was that they were all quite aged and used to delivering aircraft as singletons. Hence they had not flown in formation for years; nor it seemed did they want to. So their Chief Pilot turned up with this somewhat reluctant volunteer in tow who, it seemed, was the youngest guy on the outfit and the one who had the most recent experience of formation. His name was Keith -----. He was, I was led to believe, ex-RAF and had been at Chivenor himself, albeit on Spitfires. He certainly had a fairly chequered flying career which included delivering Spitfires to a nascent Israeli Air Force in 1948 (?) under the leadership of a lady by the name of Jackie Moggridge(?). From what little he said, it was a fairly hair raising trip. But it did not alter the fact that it was a good many years since he had flown formation.
We had the aircraft all safely gathered at St Athan and the pilots, including our passenger from Fighter Command. We were already a few days behind schedule, a fact that was going to colour some of my subsequent decisions. Nevertheless I decided that it was necessary to test Keith’s prowess at close formation even though that would put us further behind. We did a couple of trips and we were encouraged and surprised to find that he coped fairly well. We had all the maps and charts we needed and, we thought, the diplomatic clearances and the aircraft were ready. The route was planned to be UK – Orange – Luqa – El Adem – Nicosia – Diyarbakir – Teheran – Sharjah – Karachi – Delhi – Calcutta – Rangoon – Bangkok - Butterworth – Tengah; a testing little trip to put it mildly. For some bureaucratic reason, HM Customs would not allow us to depart the UK from St Athan, so we had to go to Lyneham on October 23rd and spend the night there before finally launching off on the 24th. On the 24th, the weather was abysmal at Lyneham although it was said to be clear at Orange, our first destination in the South of France. I was still a little concerned about Keith but decided to go anyway. We had to climb through 35,000 ft of cloud and I was relieved to find him still on my wing when we lurched out of the cloud at 35,000 ft and we made Orange all in one piece and in time for leisurely dinner.
I decided that we would try and get to Nicosia the following day. The first leg to Malta was uneventful and normally the shorter range of the two seat Hunters meant that we would have to stop and refuel at El Adem. However, when we looked at the forecast winds and did all our calculations, I reckoned that we could make Nicosia in one hop. If it looked as though we were going to be short of fuel, we could always divert from abeam El Adem. And for once the forecast winds met our expectations and we made Nicosia in one hop but not exactly flush with fuel.
It was at Nicosia that we had our first very negative experience. In those days – and its probably still the same now – the Transport Command crews had absolute priority on all accommodation en route. ‘Captain Speaking’, having travelled down the route in his very shiny Britannia or Comet, dressed immaculately in his best blue, having food delivered to him on demand and being served coffee on the hour every hour, was so exhausted when he arrived at his destination that he had to have air conditioned accommodation so that he could get his eight hours beauty sleep. On the other hand, single seat ferry crews, who had been on the go all day, had done all their own servicing and refuelling, would have been lucky if they had got a cup of coffee and probably had not had anything to eat, arrived at their destination absolutely knackered having done two or three legs in one day. Only to find that the transport crews had taken all the decent accommodation. And such was the situation when we arrived at Nicosia. The Movements Officer regretted to tell us that there was nothing available for us and offered us a tent for the night. At which stage I decided to employ our secret weapon. I had had my doubts about the virtue of having a Wing Commander as a passenger. However, when I told the Movements Officer that he would have to explain the situation to our VIP passenger and then introduced him to the Wing Commander, suddenly accommodation became available. I just knew there was a reason for having him along.
That night in the bar someone told us that we could make some easy money by selling Whiskey in Teheran. They even told us that if we went to the back door of the German Hotel in Teheran, they would give us a good price for it. So, without really thinking about it, we bought ten bottles of Whiskey to take with us. We had planned to night stop in Teheran in any case, but first we had to go to Diyarbakir in Turkey which, in those days, was not exactly in the centre of the universe. On the following morning the weather looked pretty fair although there was extensive cloud cover forecast over Turkey. There was a rule that said you could not go if there was more than 50% cloud cover because the Russians had a habit of bending the radio compass beacon so that you ended up over their territory. But I was beginning to get concerned that we were getting even further behind schedule so I decided to go.
The forecast was correct, and almost as soon as we got over Turkey we lost complete sight of the ground and we had to rely on dead reckoning navigation as we knew the beacons were unreliable; almost as unreliable as our navigation. I let down on the estimated time and, fortunately the cloud base was quite high as there are some significant mountains in that area. But there was no sign of Diyarbakir. After some time, we did manage to make contact with the ATC but the controller could not understand our problem, i.e. that we were at least uncertain of position if not actually lost. The two seat Hunters were running very short of fuel although Tony in his Mk.9 with an extra 260 gallons helpfully mentioned that he did not have a problem. I was just about to climb out and head for Adana when suddenly I saw the airfield in the next valley. To say that I was somewhat relieved was probably a slight understatement; but our problems did not end there. The ATC suddenly informed us that the runway was closed as there were sheep (goats?) all over the place. We ended up landing on the taxiway.
I left Tony and Keith to do the refuelling and was taken off to some hut in the middle of the airfield where I understood that I could put in a flight plan for the next leg to Teheran. No one seemed to speak English and when, in a fit of pique, I tried to leave, it was made very clear to me that I was not going anywhere. Even I understood the threat of a couple of rifles in my chest. After a short wait, a USAF exchange officer arrived with an interpreter in tow and explained that we had arrived in Turkey without the benefit of diplomatic clearance. This appeared to be regarded as an original sin and there was a weight of opinion that seemed to wish to put us in the slammer. Fortunately the USAF officer managed to persuade them out of this and somehow we were allowed to continue. I have never thanked that man but I was extremely grateful to him. He appeared to have the mother and father of punishment postings. He was the USAF representative on a wing of Turkish Air Force F.84s who were at the time grounded for lack of spares (so he told me). No one spoke English, there were few facilities and Diyarbakir was in the middle of nowhere. I have no idea what he had done to deserve it, but it must have been pretty serious. Without further ado, we got the hell out of Diyarbakir and had a pretty uneventful trip to Teheran.
Teheran was a fairly lively city in those days, even though there appeared to be a surfeit of the military on the streets keeping control and we were accommodated in a hotel down town. The first requirement was to find the German Hotel and off load the ten bottles of scotch. Wandering around the city with the Scotch wrapped in a map was not something to be recommended when there seemed to be distinct possibility of being stopped by one of the many patrols and asked to explain what we were doing. In fact it almost turned into high farce as, when trying to avoid such a patrol, we managed to drop a bottle in the street just as we had located the hotel. Fortunately they did not take any notice and after some discussion the hotel took the remaining 9 bottles of Scotch off our hands. We concluded that the life of a smuggler was not for us and vowed never to get suckered in ever again. The following morning we left Teheran with some sense of relief and headed for Sharjah in what was then the Trucial States and is now the UAE. Political sensitivities demanded that we flight planned to Bahrein and then diverted in mid flight to Sharjah because Iran had some sort of conflicting territorial claim. We arrived at Sharjah and had intended to go on to Karachi but suddenly the canopy of my T.7 started playing up and would not close. We had a copy of what was referred to as the “Vol 1”, a sort of Haynes technical manual for the aircraft, but that did not throw much light on the problem.
Sharjah in those days was very different to the modern city of today. It just consisted of a fort, an airfield and a few buildings for the RAF facilities. The accommodation for transients was once again tents. The runway was just ‘murram’, being basically oiled sand levelled and rolled. When it got a bit rough they just moved the runway to a fresh bit and then repaired the old one. The base was commanded by a Squadron Leader with about 30 men. It took about an hour or more by Land Rover along the beach to get to Dubai; and when you got there, there was not much apart from the Soukh and the Creek. No hotels or restaurants and very little electricity. Today, of course, it takes about seven or eight minutes along an eight lane highway. So we were stuck and not quite sure how we were going to rectify the problem. That was until an electrician on the base heard of our plight and volunteered to take a look. He knew something about Hunters and within a very short time identified the problem as a blown fuse, which he replaced and once again we were ready to go. But we had lost another day on our schedule.
Sharjah to Karachi was not a particularly long leg but we had a major unserviceability en route. Keith lost a fuel pump in the T.8 and we had to talk him through the necessary procedure to deal with it. It had become increasingly clear as we had progressed that he did not have a great knowledge of or familiarity with his aircraft and that we would have to nurse him along. At that stage we only knew half of the problem as will become clear later on. However we landed at Karachi without any further problem. But there was one procedure that we had to carry out which was for ever a source of mystery to me. We had to keep the canopies closed taxiing in and then under the watchful eye of some official discharge an insecticide inside the cockpit and sit there for a minute or two just to ensure that we had not imported any nasty bugs. Apart from the fact that we nearly suffocated, I could not for the life of me imagine what bug we could bring with us that they had not already got. We were finally cleared to open the canopies and we then went to clear customs. We had refreshed our store of Scotch by this time – but only for personal consumption – and I declared it to the customs official and, taking no chances, told him that I would be happy to leave it in bond and collect it on the way out. His only comment was ‘Why? Don’t you want to drink while you’re in Karachi’. So I took it with me, which was just as well because we were about to fall even further behind our schedule.
We were accommodated in the Speedbird Hotel just outside the airfield. This was run by BOAC and was primarily for the benefit of slip crews of BOAC and Qantas. It could also take a full load of passengers as well when necessary. It was a pretty high standard hotel. But they were not particularly familiar with RAF crews of single seat jets, and as we were aircraft captains, we were treated as a BOAC captain – an individual just about akin to God – and signed all our bar chits as such. It certainly got wonderful service. That first night, as were having a drink on the veranda, we were treated to a locust storm which was impressive to put it mildly. We met a whole bunch of Qantas crews who seemed determined to enjoy themselves. But our more immediate problem was what to do about the fuel pump on the Hunter T.8. Out came the ‘Vol 1’ again and, miracle of miracles, it did describe roughly what we had to do to change the pump. So first thing on the following morning Tony and I decided to examine the problem, as Keith seemed to have opted out. The first thing we had to do was defuel the aircraft. We borrowed a fuel bowser and successfully completed that operation. Then we had to take out the unserviceable fuel pump from the bottom of the front fuel tank, which we did. I found the reference number of the pump and sent of signals to Aden and to Singapore (the nearest RAF bases likely to have Hunter spares) asking for a spare pump. Then we sat back to wait. That evening the Qantas crews took pity on us and invited us to a party. My main memory of this was at breakfast at 6 o’clock the following morning with one of the 707 Qantas crews, having not been to bed, when first of all the co-pilot had an argument with the flight engineer and went out on the balcony to settle it in the old fashioned way. Then, just as we said that it was time to go to bed, the 707 Captain appeared, immaculate in his uniform, and announced that the crew coach was picking them up in 5 minutes to take them out to the aircraft.
To our surprise, not just one pump but two fuel pumps appeared within 24 hours. The next exercise was to fit it to the aircraft; but when I compared the new one with the item that I had taken off the aircraft, it was only half the size. The reason very quickly became apparent. I had taken the pump out of the fuel tank, but I had also taken the base plate off the bottom of the tank, an item that is normally never touched from the time the aircraft is built to its demise. What I really needed was a new seal before I put it back. We gave the problem some thought and decided that we just could not wait for a new seal. I went to the BOAC hangar and borrowed a large tube of Bostik, put the new pump in the base plate, coated the old seal liberally with the Bostik and reassembled the whole thing, tightening all the nuts up as hard as possible. Having connected everything, we then refuelled the aircraft and sat for some time underneath to see whether it was going to leak. Amazingly enough it did not and we were once again ready to roll
The next leg from Karachi to Delhi was reasonably straightforward apart from the fact that our landing at Delhi coincided with that of the Indian Prime Minister Nehru. Nevertheless, after being stuck on the taxi track for half an hour, we managed to get refuelled and back in the air for another straightforward leg to Calcutta. There we found a Canberra crew waiting for us to act as a weather escort for the next couple of legs. It was the time of the ITCZ (Intertropical Convergence Zone) when the weather can be particularly unpleasant mainly due to the build-up of Cumulo-Nimbus clouds and thunderstorms. Because of our delay in Karachi, they had been waiting for 3 or 4 days. They were particularly unhappy because, although they had been put in one of the most expensive hotels in Calcutta, they had been restricted by the management as to what they could eat and drink in the restaurant. We were also put into the same hotel and, feigning complete ignorance, invited them to join us for dinner and proceeded to have a rather magnificent and enjoyable evening. I have often wondered what happened to the bill as I signed a chit for some horrendous amount and was convinced that it would somehow find its way back to me. I am glad to say that it never did because, if it had, I would almost certainly had to declare bankruptcy. The Canberra crew said that they would takeoff an hour before us on the following morning so that they could pass the weather and winds back to us. We never heard from them or saw them again.
By now we were well behind our schedule and, in order to try and make up some time, I decided that we would almost certainly bypass our next route stop at Rangoon and go straight to Bangkok. Fortunately we had to fly just about overhead Rangoon so that we could leave the final decision to then once we had found out what the wind and the weather were at the other end and, more importantly, see if we had enough fuel to make it. As usual Tony was sitting fat, dumb and happy in his Mk.9 with more fuel than he knew what to do with. It was Keith and me who would have the worry - although Keith did not seem to be unduly concerned. Ignorance is sometimes bliss. Fortunately the weather was absolutely gin clear and remained so as we passed overhead Rangoon. We tried calling the Canberra without any luck; but fortuitously a BOAC 707 picked up our calls and asked us what the problem was. I explained what we were doing and that we needed the wind and weather at Bangkok for the go/no go decision. He then proceeded to act as our shepherd for the remainder of that leg. The weather was clear at Bangkok and we arrived with just a few minutes fuel remaining. I was never able to thank that BOAC crew, but they really performed a sterling service for us that day.
We had had very little support from the RAF along the route but the Air Attache in Bangkok seemed determined to make up for it. He met us and made sure that we got to our hotel, spent some of the evening with us and introduced us to a guy who was celebrating the birth of a son with his pal and asked us to join him. Keith had declined the invitation and went off on his own. The name of our host escapes me but I seem to remember that he was related, somewhat ironically, to Duncan Sandys. All I can remember of the evening is that we seemed to go all over Bangkok, ending up in some so-called teahouse drinking Saki. All we wanted to do was go to bed, as we had to be in the crew coach at 0500 in the morning. The only way to achieve this was to drink the Saki as quickly as possible which was not really the smartest idea that I have ever had. No sooner had I got my head on the pillow when the alarm went off and I dragged myself out of bed, washed, shaved, dressed and packed in the usual ten minutes. We were all waiting in the crew coach but Keith had not appeared. I asked Tony to go back and see if he could find him; five minutes later he returned saying that Keith was just coming. He also mentioned quietly to me that, when he got to his room, Keith was slugging back a very large glass of Scotch. Throughout the trip his behaviour had been somewhat erratic, almost as though he was on some other planet. Suddenly all became clear. Sadly, Keith was an alcoholic, just what one needed on a trip like this. However, it was Saturday morning and we only had one more leg, or at most two if we stopped at Butterworth, to do. So we pressed on to the airport and the aircraft.
There were several important factors at this stage to consider. Firstly the weather. Whilst the ICTZ had not so far moved this far north, we were going to have to fly through it to get to Tengah. Secondly, would we have enough fuel to get to Tengah in one hop without having to refuel at Butterworth. And lastly we were running short of starter cartridges for the two seat Hunters. So we could not afford to have more than one shut down/restart. The weather looked pretty good, the winds were such that it looked as though we could easily reach Tengah in one hop, so we started up. After we started, it was obvious that Keith had some sort of problem in that he could not get his radio to work. After sitting there for some time trying to sort it out, it became obvious that we were going to have to shut down to sort it out. Reluctantly I gave the chop signal and we all closed down. I went across to Keith to find out what the problem was only to find that it was his total ignorance of the aircraft systems that had caused the radio problem. At that stage I decided that we were going to go nowhere that day as it was plain to me that Keith was not really with us. Alan Jenkins was a bit upset as he had arranged to play golf on Sunday morning with friends in Singapore and he wanted to press on. But I then found out that our only possible diversion airfield, Butterworth, was closed which made our further delay inevitable.
Once again the Air Attache came to the rescue and made sure that we were entertained. He had what seemed to us the perfect existence. He was accredited to 3 or 4 countries surrounding Thailand and had his own personal twin engined aircraft, a Devon, to get around in. His wife said she acted as the air hostess whilst her husband flew around. He had a crew chief for the aircraft on his staff. He took us out to an island in the middle of some lake where we had some outstanding shellfish. On Sunday morning he insisted that we joined him to go to what he described as 'No 2 Mess'. It turned out that this was the house of the crewchief and his administrative SNCO who were perfect if not reluctant hosts as it was before noon on a Sunday. All in all a weekend in Bangkok was an experience not to be missed. This was before Vietnam had seriously escalated and the American influence was minimal. It was, relatively speaking, uncrowded and traffic was not the problem it is today. Our hotel was an interesting experience. Located on the outskirts of town, it appeared to be a quite normal and well appointed hotel. However after about 8 o'clock in the evening, the dining room turned into one of the darkest night clubs I have ever been in, so dark that it was impossible to read the check. Just as well, really, as we never did discover who paid for it.
Monday morning and we were all in fairly good shape and ready to complete the trip. Even Keith looked fairly healthy and with it for a change. We only had three starter cartridges for the two aircraft (Tony's aircraft had a different starter system); so I briefed that if one of us failed to start, I would get out and fit the spare cartridge so that we did not have to close down whichever aircraft had started. Fortunately we all started first time and away we went. Even the ICTZ was fairly inactive and apart from a slightly unpleasant ten minutes at one stage, we were not troubled by the weather. Only one incident marred the final leg. We were flying a very loose formation and I looked round from time to time to make sure everyone was there. Then I looked and there was only one aircraft besides mine. Keith was missing. Tony had not seen him and despite many calls on the radio, there was absolute silence. I could not imagine how I was going to explain losing an aircraft; at best it was somewhat careless, at worst it was gross negligence. I had just about given up when Keith came up on the radio and apologised because he had fallen asleep and dropped about two miles astern. I was so relieved that I could not be bothered to get angry with him. We landed at Tengah without any further incidents.
One of the first things I did was to tell the 20 Sqn engineer what we had done to the Hunter T.8's fuel tank and booster pump. He was horrified. The trip had taken us 18 days and was an experience I would not have missed for all the world. What did we learn? Firstly, travelling with Qantas could be an interesting experience in those days. Secondly, before you take a spanner to an aircraft, make sure you know what you are doing. Thirdly, Canberra crews are not particularly reliable but BOAC crews were fine. Fourthly, the post of Air Attache in Bangkok was something to which every fighter pilot should aspire. And lastly, and somewhat sadly, alcoholics, especially ones who knew little about their aircraft, are not the perfect companions in such an undertaking.