Swiftbirds honour war vets

For more than 30 years, Northey and a group of other pilots of his generation have flown in formation to commemorate Remembrance Day.

John Northey (left)

John Northey (left)

Last Friday, 76-year-old John Northey of Port Moody rode his motorcycle to Squamish.

This Friday, you’ll have to look skyward to find him – and, no, his road trip didn’t end in tragic misfortune.

For more than 30 years, Northey and a group of other pilots of his generation have flown in formation to commemorate Remembrance Day ceremonies across the Lower Mainland.

This year will be no exception as Northey — a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot in the 1950s and longtime formation flying instructor — and eight others will again slide into the cockpits of their vintage aircraft to honour war veterans and offer those on the ground paying their respects a glimpse of history, including serving the memorial gatherings in Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody and Belcarra.

Northey heads the Swiftbird Formation Team out of Pitt Meadows Regional Airport and his four-pilot group will join five others from the Langley-based Snowflakes crew to form a nine-plane formation today.

The Swiftbirds have been together 20 years, often joining in various summertime air shows around the province in addition to their Remembrance Day journeys.

And in all those formations, the man who was mayor of Port Moody from 1993 to ’96 said he has never encountered a near-mishap. A big reason for that, he said, is the briefing for a formation takes as long as the flight itself, and that all pilots taking part know they’re an integral part of a team.

Northey bought his Globe Swift, a two-seat sport monoplane from the post-Second World War period, 38 years ago.

In addition to flying and, more recently, motorcycling, Northey is an accomplished sailor and safety advocate on the water. From 2002 to ’04, we was a member of the not-for-profit Port Moody Power and Sail Squadron and for a decade starting in 1999, he taught weather and regulatory environment portions of the boat safety course the PoMo squadron runs twice annually.

“Knowledge of the weather is a very important safety consideration for both aviators and mariners alike,” Northey said. “Making sure you’re well educated and well informed are requirements for both safe flying and safe boating.”

And in his 30-plus years flying formation for Remembrance Day, only weather got in the way, with heavy fog grounding the team.

That will be less of a problem for Northey since he recently sold his boat and bought a motorcycle, prompting a question of why a 76-year-old man feels the need to fire up an engine and cruise skies, waters and roads.

“I wouldn’t call [myself] a thrill-seeker,” Northey said. “It’s more a desire to turn dinosaurs into noise.”

Flight path

John Northey’s team of formation fliers will take to the sky Friday at 11 a.m. and, in order and in spans of roughly 90 seconds, fly over ceremonies in Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody, Belcarra, North Vancouver, West Vancouver, Jericho and downtown Vancouver’s Victory Square.