The new engine arrives and we, the aircrew, have an evening with the BBC - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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The new engine arrives and we, the aircrew, have an evening with the BBC

At some time during our enforced stay at Masirah, but before the new engine had arrived, I received a signal from our Squadron HQ to say that I was authorised to continue our Lone Ranger as soon as the aircraft was declared serviceable. My crew were both pleased and sceptical; pleased that we could still go to Singapore, but sceptical when I showed them that signal while there was still a gaping space where No 3 engine should have been. That signal was remarkable for another reason: it turned out to be the only communication I received from Strike Command HQ, RAF Marham, or 214 Squadron throughout the entire trip.

The next few days passed slowly. The replacement engine arrived from Marham and with it a fitting party who were not impressed with our removal of the defective engine. Apparently, we had made their job considerably more difficult because we'd removed all manner of pipes and electrical cables that didn't need removing. I kept discreetly out of the way and let Pete Hogg do the explaining. On the same transport aircraft that had brought the new engine, there were a couple of airframe fitters whose job was to patch the hole in the wing. I didn't watch for long when they got to work because I was surprised, and not a little alarmed, to note that the patch they applied to the 64 square inches of hole on the wing seemed to be made of nothing stronger than canvas and some sort of glue. It hardly seemed strong enough for the job, but I had to assume they knew what they were doing - they said they did.

My crew and I spent one evening very agreeably at a barbecue hosted by BBC engineers who operated two powerful World Service medium wave transmitters located in the far corner of the airfield. An invitation to the BBC site was always popular with RAF personnel because it had pure, clean water to wash and shower in, whereas on the RAF base itself the taps dispensed salt water straight out of the sea. Have you ever tried cleaning your teeth using salt water? Sea water had to be desalinated before it could be used for cooling the enormous thermionic valves used in the BBC's transmitters. After doing its primary job circulating around the transmitters' innards, the desalinated water was fed to the staff's domestic areas and thence out to their gardens; the BBC compound had the only bright, green lawns on the island.

In the course of conversation, when I casually mentioned that I had once nearly electrocuted myself servicing the inside of an RAF transmitter in Ceylon, one of the BBC engineers took me inside one of their transmitters. There was plenty of room for the two of us to walk around inside and the BBC man assured me that although there were loud whirring noises and clunking relays it was definitely off air. Nevertheless, I politely declined his offer to grasp hold of one of the high tension connectors to prove it was not 'live'.

It took much longer to install the new engine than it had taken us to remove the damaged one but, on 20 June, engine ground runs were carried out successfully by the engineers and I was advised that XH667 was now serviceable to fly. Normally following an engine change an air test would be required. The test schedule would include shutting down and then re-starting the engine in flight and testing spool up times and other parameters to make sure everything was operating to specification. The chief engineer on the fitting party assured me that there was no need to do that on this occasion and he signed the aircraft's official logbook (Form 700) to that effect. He said that we should set off for Gan but if we found something was not right with the engine all we had to do was return to Masirah. As captain, I began to understand what was meant by "the loneliness of command".

I decided that we would depart early the next morning and my two navigators went off to prepare the flight plan. I scheduled our departure for 0800hrs local time which was the earliest departure time for visiting aircraft. As I mentioned earlier, Masirah's single 7,500ft runway created quite a serious problem for the under-powered Mark 1 Victors. The hotter the outside temperature, the less thrust is produced by a jet engine. Our operating manual showed that every additional degree of temperature would require about 500 feet to be added to our take-off run. My co-pilot and I independently calculated that in order to take off with sufficient fuel for the trip to Gan, we had to take-off when the outside air temperature was no more than 28°C. The Met Forecaster briefed us that the surface wind was, and would remain, light and variable but we could expect the temperature to be just approaching 28°C at 0800 hrs and rising rapidly thereafter. In fact, when we got to the take-off point at 0755 hrs, ATC reported that the temperature had already reached 27°. I lined up on Runway 18, the south-pointing runway, applied the handbrake and ran all four engines at high rpm to burn off some fuel rapidly. It was also my opportunity to check the new No 3 engine on full power. It looked good.

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