Pure Jet Experience

October 24, 2007
Written by Mike Reyno
4-nljt-3The Northern Lights dress sharp. They fly fast. They're the best-known civilian aerobatic team in North America and for seven years have been thrilling millions of people at airshows with their graceful formation flying and breathtaking solo manoeuvres. And now they fly jets. They've replaced the brightly red, blue and yellow of their Extra 300Ls with drab gray, and the whine of their Lycoming engines with the sound of thunder.

The Northern Lights, now known as the Northern Light Jet Team, can claim many firsts in the airshow industry, including the first civilian five-ship aerobatic demonstration act. With the addition of four Czech-built Aero Vodochody L-39C Albatros jet trainers, this distinctly Canadian team can now claim to be the first four-ship civilian jet team in the world. They can also claim to be the first commercial operator in Canada to have 'Combat Support' on their Commercial Operating Certificate. "It has been a long road to get here," said team leader and co-founder André Lortie, "but worth it."

Not wanting to give up their precision flying, Lortie and another ex-Snowbird pilot, Mario Hamel, founded the Northern Lights in 1994. And they work closely together - about four feet apart. But they are not stuck in an office. Instead, they're stuffed into the cockpits of Albatros jets, and their workplace is the sky. Pulling Gs upside down in front of a crowd is an unusual full-time occupation, but for these pilots it's just 'another day at the office'. They say that the concept behind the Northern Lights was simple; they were hooked on flying formation aerobatics when they flew with the Snowbirds and wanted to carry their passion to new heights. "We have grown from a dream I had into a world-renowned, enterprising airshow demonstration team," Lortie said. "From the drawing table in '93 to the five Extra 300s that we operated until only last year before we acquired the jets, our vision has never wavered." The Northern Lights have performed more than 450 shows in Canada, the US, Mexico, El Salvador, China, Germany and Thailand. They are well-known for their high-energy, high-impact shows, performing multiple snap rolls, tumbles, torque rolls and knife-edge spins in their Extra 300s. Crowd favourites included the rollover, the back cross split and crazy diamond manoeuvres. The team received the prestigious 2001 Bill Barber Award for Showmanship. Lortie said that this year marks a season of transition from piston engines to jets. His vision from the beginning was to one day form a jet squad. They looked at several different ex-military jets available on the market in the US, but settled on the nimble and reliable L-39. They acquired their first L-39 two years ago and a second last year, which performed at shows alongside their team of Extras. "We had flown the Extras for six years and it was time to do something else that no one had done before and would captivate airshow audiences," Lortie said. This year ex-CF-18 pilot and current Air Canada pilot Greg Morris, along with Delta Air Lines pilot Dan McCue, joined the Northern Lights. (McCue imported the first L-39 into the US.)

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