New equipment, old pilots

Somali flag

The flag of Somalia

C-GOED was one of Viking’s ten new 500Cs that the company had acquired in 1974 from Hughes Aircraft. For this contract with Conoco Oil in northern Somalia, it was paired with a second, GOEC. They were both well-maintained by Viking apprentice Ed Pucci and an engineer. A contract pilot named “Tony” Marcantonio had been hired to fly the first Hughes 500C full-time. I would fly the second aircraft.

One of the continuing problems on-site was the extremely erosive sand and dust kicked up by rotor downwash – not a problem for the particle separator-equipped Allison engines. We were going through blades every 150 to 200 hours due to sand erosion.

The Conoco helipad and base camp, Somalia

The Conoco helipad and base camp - Somalia 1975

Normally we’d have two or three passengers on board. Since we weren’t working with maximum gross weights, I attempted to minimize or eliminate the time spent hovering during takeoff and landing and the consequent clouds of dust and sand. That appeared to work for me, and in fact the other pilot on the job commented on my “dustless” technique. Since I thought it was rather basic and obvious, I never did try to explain it to him.

Before I left Ottawa, Larry had asked me to ensure that one of the people that he had sent over wasn’t doing any flying on the Conoco project. He told me that the individual had had a heart attack, and consequently had been hired as an engineer on the project, not as a pilot. The last thing we needed was another incident similar to Doc Demerah’s, who, a few years earlier, had had an in-flight occurrence while flying a Bell 47. Doc hadn’t survived his heart attack; however, a passenger was discovered sitting on a float on the overturned 47 that was found floating on a lake.

I was put in the unfortunate position of being the bearer of bad news for someone who was flying, but shouldn’t have been per the terms of his agreement with the company.

After a day of seeing the man fly, I took him aside and attempted to be diplomatic in my approach. I tried to rationalize that we had two pilots on-site for the contract, both perfectly capable of doing the job. After all, Tony Marcantonio was one of the pilots that had been hired to do the flying. That went over like a lead balloon, and I could tell that he wasn’t going to listen to me.

Finally, I tried suggesting that he could taper off on the flying and slowly let Tony take over full-time, but the individual wasn’t interested in discussing the subject any further. He informed me that he would continue to fly and stubbornly and selfishly continued to disregard his agreement with the company for the duration of the job.


The sun was shining and the sky was blue. There was flying to be done – although not by Tony Marcantonio, who had been hired to do the flying. I guess he was supposed to be a phantom pilot on this contract while his flying duties were being done by another who hadn’t been hired to fly.

I scratched my head over that one. I have often thought the book Catch-22, written by Joseph Heller, was funny, but there’s nothing funnier than real life.

Since there was nothing more I could do about it, I filed it all away for future reference (today, perhaps), and lit another Gitanes.

*     *     *

Ed Godlewski is no longer with us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *