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Pure Jet Experience

The Northern Lights dress sharp


October 24, 2007
By Mike Reyno

Topics

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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