We finally arrive in Singapore - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

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We finally arrive in Singapore


Every visitor seemed to take a pic of this signpost outside the transit mess at RAF Gan
We reckoned that the entire RAF contingent at Gan went out onto the airfield to watch our departure for Singapore on 22 June 1972. They had obviously heard what had happened to us on take-off from Masirah. The long 8,694ft runway at Gan, a helpful 10 to 15 knot headwind component, plus a lower outside air temperature than Masirah, meant that take-off was uneventful, as was the 4hrs 20min flight to Tengah on the northern edge of the island of Singapore. For 'political' reasons the RAF were not permitted to overfly Indonesian territory or airspace and so we had to route north of the Indonesian island of Sumatra and then down the Malacca Strait.

Tengah had been an RAF airfield until the end of 1971 when it was renamed Tengah Air Base and handed over to the fledgling Singapore Air Defence Command. I had been to Singapore several times earlier in my career but this was the first time as pilot. I can't actually remember much about our arrival at Tengah but I am sure we all climbed down from XH667 with a considerable degree of relief. Because of our delayed arrival we were advised to submit new applications for all the diplomatic clearances covering the return flights. We were told that it was not permitted simply to quote the original clearances and add the necessary number of days to them when submitting flight plans.

We were not planned to stage through Masirah on the way home (and how relieved we were about that) because it had been known well in advance of our departure from UK that we wouldn't be able to uplift sufficient fuel from there to reach Akrotiri in Cyprus. Instead we would be using Dubai which was then little more than a very long runway in the desert. Going via Dubai instead of Masirah added roughly 350 miles to the leg from Gan.

The UK had ended its formal political and military relations with the Emirate of Dubai in December 1971 when the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had been formed. Initially the UAE was a loose federation of just two emirates: Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Later five more emirates, Ajman, Fujairah, Sharjah, Ras al-Khaimah and Umm al-Qaiwain, joined the federation. In 1972 there were no international facilities or British military personnel at Dubai, so I had been copying all my signals to the tiny British military unit which was still at Sharjah, eight miles east of Dubai, requesting they made arrangements for our reception, refuelling and hotel needs for the planned overnight stay in Dubai. (The RAF base at Sharjah had closed permanently at the end of 1971.)

The revised diplomatic clearances, which we had been warned before setting out from UK were very important, took several days to arrange and that delayed our departure from Tengah until 29 June 1972 - seven days after our arrival. By that time we'd had enough: we had run out of personal money, we had more dirty laundry than clean clothes to wear, we had had no contact at all with our families in UK for 17 days, and we were all getting a little irritated with each other's company. Not important to us at the time, but back at Marham our own squadron, No 214, now had a new squadron commander. That was a scheduled change of command, absolutely nothing to do with our Lone  Ranger.

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