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N.S. pilot flying artistic patterns in response to provincial tragedies, coronavirus

Click to play video 'Supporting Nova Scotians as they mourn one flight at a time' Supporting Nova Scotians as they mourn one flight at a time
WATCH: As Nova Scotia endures multiple tragedies meet the man trying to help heal the province one flight at a time. – May 16, 2020

As Nova Scotians continue to grieve after what has been a traumatic two months, one man is attempting to inspire those in the province who may need a hand.

Dimitri Neonakis is a Halifax pilot who has taken to the skies to give the province hope and entertainment during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

READ MORE: Premier’s ‘delightfully Nova Scotian’ cry to respect physical distancing goes viral

Until recently, Nova Scotians were restricted to staying in their homes unless absolutely necessary.

Stuck inside and without much entertainment, residents have gone stir crazy.

But in the wake of the mass shooting in Nova Scotia that resulted in the deaths of 22 people, Neonakis felt obligated to do something.

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Click to play video 'Heartfelt messages pouring in from across Canada to support Nova Scotians' Heartfelt messages pouring in from across Canada to support Nova Scotians
Heartfelt messages pouring in from across Canada to support Nova Scotians – Apr 22, 2020

He said that he has many friends there and the flight over the Portapique area is one of his favourite sightseeing routes.

“From the air, everything is peaceful, and I wanted to go up there to show my support for the people,” he told Global News on Saturday.

“To tell them that I support them, I embrace them. So I did the heart, I took the flight in the shape of a heart.”

Dimitri Neonakis flew a heart-shaped pattern over the area of Portapique, N.S., where 22 people were killed by a gunman on April 18 and April 19.
Dimitri Neonakis flew a heart-shaped pattern over the area of Portapique, N.S., where 22 people were killed by a gunman on April 18 and April 19. FlightRadar24/Facebook

‘The world below me is the paper’

Neonakis has been a pilot for more than 20 years. As a child, he was interested in aviation and grew up wanting to be a pilot.

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Now he does it for fun and as part of his Dream Wings program, which provides children with special needs with education and the thrill of flight.

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Before his heart-shaped flight, Neonakis said he’s never attempted to create sky art.

Click to play video 'Artists paint boarded up businesses with art, messages of thanks' Artists paint boarded up businesses with art, messages of thanks
Artists paint boarded up businesses with art, messages of thanks – May 13, 2020

But he’s been slowly improving with each flight he takes, tracing out the shape he wants before he takes to the skies.

“It’s actually quite enjoyable and it’s challenging, but a shape in the sky will come out as good as you draw it on the original plan and as steady as you fly it,” he said.

“The airplane is my pencil, the GPS or radar tracking is the ink and the world below me is the paper.”

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He said he was blown away by the amount of attention his heart got.

Members of the aviation community were able to track his flight and see the image he created by following his flight path. Images of the flight spread through social media quickly.

Neonakis then “drew” an image that he calls “Lady H.”, in memory of Const. Heidi Stevenson, the RCMP officer who lost her life in the shooting.

“I didn’t think that I would be able to draw, for example, the lips. It came out perfect,” he said.

An image that Dimitri Neonakis created using his plane. He titled it Lady H., in honour of Const. Heidi Stevenson, who died during the mass shooting in Nova Scotia.
An image that Dimitri Neonakis created using his plane. He titled it Lady H., in honour of Const. Heidi Stevenson, who died during the mass shooting in Nova Scotia. Dimitri Neonakis/Facebook

The drawing came out so well that Neonakis even received a private message from Const. Stevenson’s mother in response.

“I was so happy that it brought her some comfort,” he said.

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Part of the challenge is drawing the image in one continuous line.

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Radar tracking begins as soon as he takes off from the Halifax Stanfield Airport and continues until he lands; there is no opportunity to start and stop or redo if he messes up.

“I can’t wait to see it, I’m not much of an artist, although my kids are,” he said. “When I draw something, it can take me up to 10 hours and I can’t wait to see it up.”

Flights can last between two and four hours, Neonakis told Global News, and can stretch over 1,126 kilometres.

Dimitri Neonakis flew this bird-shaped pattern in order to honour the six Canadian Armed Forces personnel who died in the CH-148 helicopter crash.
Dimitri Neonakis flew this bird-shaped pattern in order to honour the six Canadian Armed Forces personnel who died in the CH-148 helicopter crash. Dimitri Neonakis/Facebook

Since his initial voyage, Neonakis has flown a number of flights only one of which he was accompanied by another pilot.

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But he said it has all been worth it.

READ MORE: Plans ‘well advanced’ to recover military helicopter in crash that killed 6

Neonakis has since honoured the six Canadian Armed Forces soldiers that died in the crash of a CH-148 Cyclone helicopter on April 29 as well as a toddler that went missing in Truro, N.S.

This flight was meant to help raise awareness for Dylan Ehler, a three-year-old from Truro, N.S., who went missing.
This flight was meant to help raise awareness for Dylan Ehler, a three-year-old from Truro, N.S., who went missing. Dimitri Neonakis/Facebook/FlightAware

His most recent drawing was titled, “Hang in there a little longer.”

It shows a spider monkey hanging onto a branch, a message that he hopes kids throughout the province will take to heart.

“Just hang in there. I’m proud of you. I’m proud of you being good to your parents. I’m proud of you for being tough in these tough times,” Neonakis said.

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“I know you miss your friends. I know you miss your playgrounds. But hang in there a little longer.”

“Hang in there a little longer” is Dimitri Neonakis most recent drawing. He wants it to send a message of hope for children in Nova Scotia.
“Hang in there a little longer” is Dimitri Neonakis most recent drawing. He wants it to send a message of hope for children in Nova Scotia. Dimitri Neonakis/Facebook/FlightAware

Neonakis said he has no plans to stop his drawings anytime soon.

“People look to those drawings as a bit of comfort and that made me get up there and do it again and again,” Neonakis said, with a laugh.

“If that’s what it takes, then I’m going to be up there a thousand times, or until I run out of money to buy fuel.”