As we roared along Tengah's undulating runway, we certainly did not expect to be back there within the hour! Just as we reached our cruising altitude Neil, my AEO, reported that we had an alternator failure. The electrical system on the Victor B1A K2P was antiquated. There was an alternator on each of the four engines and the failure of any single alternator failure meant that 50% of the services fed from that side of the system were unavailable. It was possible to connect the port and starboard electrical systems together in parallel, but it was definitely not recommended because whatever had caused the first alternator to fail could easily have transferred the problem to the other three as well, with the danger, albeit remote, of a complete electrical failure.
Tempting though it was for a fleeting second to take a risk, I made the decision that we couldn't continue on a long oceanic flight in that condition and so I told the crew that we would return to Tengah. We had to jettison about 40,000lbs of fuel to get us down to our maximum permitted landing weight and we touched down just 40 minutes after our departure. In spite of detailed engineering checks, no fault could be found with the electrical system and so we tried again after a 3-hour delay. The same alternator failed again, this time shortly after take-off. It was easier for me to take the decision to return to Tengah this time. To have pressed on with the failed alternator was as good as accepting that I had made a wrong decision earlier that morning. Another 40,000lbs of fuel expelled to atmosphere.
We then had to bide our time over the weekend, with even less money to spend and getting more frustrated. By Tuesday 4 July our Crew Chief with the help of some RAF electricians based at Tengah had still been unable to reproduce the fault so the Crew Chief asked me to conduct an air test in the local area with a limited fuel load. I thought that was a sensible suggestion and this time the alternator did not fail. We had to put the earlier problems down to "just two of those things that happens on old aircraft". It was actually a very unsatisfactory outcome. No crew likes NFF in the aircraft engineering log when it refers to critical systems. NFF was No Fault Found - although some sceptical aircrew used to have another definition of the acronym: first word 'Not'; third word 'Fixed'.
Nevertheless, I decided that we would launch the following day to Gan. I then spend several hours with my crew writing and sending out further updates to our diplomatic clearance requests but, since they were not forthcoming by morning, we still could not legally depart from Tengah. By this time XH667 had become something of a fixture at Tengah and there were lots of curious visitors to the aircraft. We were told that we had to move out of our accommodation on base at Tengah because it was needed for more deserving personnel. We happily moved into the luxurious 5* Equatorial Hotel and stayed there for seven days and I signed chits for all our expenses. From time to time one or the other of us checked to see if the diplomatic clearance signals had arrived. In fact, it was not until the late afternoon of Monday 10 July that we got the answers that we were all waiting for. That was actually quite a ridiculous length of time, even taking into account the poor international communications in those days.
We were still missing approval for our over-flight of Iran on the route from Dubai to Akrotiri but, to avoid losing another day, I persuaded the Operations Staff at Tengah to look out for that and forward it to us at Gan by the fastest possible means. We took off from Tengah for the 4th and final time the following morning and set course to Gan. Surely nothing more could go wrong this time?
Above: Everyone had to take a sunset shot at Gan. I took one on each of my many visits (1960s-70s) so I can't remember exactly when I took this one.
The flight from Tengah to Gan on Tuesday 11 July was uneventful. To our relief the problem with the alternator did not recur. On arrival, however, we were told that there was a problem: the UAE had not responded to our request for diplomatic clearance for our landing at Dubai the following day. I asked the Operations Staff at Gan to try and hasten a response from the UAE. Unfortunately, the only way to communicate with the outside world from Gan was via a teleprinter link back to Singapore. Since leaving the UK a month earlier I had routinely been sending an information copy of all my signals to the British Army unit at Sharjah that was supposedly looking after RAF interests in the Gulf area. By the scheduled time of our departure on 12 July not a single one of those messages had been answered and so we had to spend another day at Gan.