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Pilot Picasso reflects on a tough year after Portapique

Aerial artist Dimitri Neonakis flew a heart over Nova Scotia—and stole all of ours.


On Sunday, April 19, 2020, Dimitri Neonakis was at home with his girlfriend, stunned, as news from Portapique slowly made its way to the public. By the end of the day, he was exhausted. The pandemic was still fresh—shutdowns had begun in Nova Scotia just one month prior—and now the province was dealing with the deadliest mass shooting in the country’s history. Neonakis, a pilot, had a natural reaction.

Pilot Picasso Dimitri Neonakis in his Cirrus SR22 plane/paintbrush. - SUBMITTED
  • Pilot Picasso Dimitri Neonakis in his Cirrus SR22 plane/paintbrush.

“Let’s go to the airport,” he said to his girlfriend. “I want to get up in the air.”

Before takeoff, Neonakis sketched a heart-shaped flightpath on his

 tablet. Originally intending to fly it over the whole province, he decided to fly it directly over Portapique, instead.

“I was so shocked with the events that I just wanted to get above that area, Portapique, and let my airplane make noise and say ‘look, we’re here…we’re all together in this,’” he tells The Coast in a recent interview.

After the flight, photos of the flightpath went viral. The Dartmouth pilot, who is also the owner Alexandra’s Pizza, made news across the continent. As the strange pandemic year wore on, so did the bad news—and the flights. His plane, a Cirrus SR22, had suddenly become his paintbrush.

Neonakis could have never predicted that the year’s events would turn him into a pilot Picasso. But once he realized that his flying was a bright spot for people in times of darkness, he started creating more of his signature radar designs. From a cursive “Jenn” for Jennifer Casey, the Snowbird pilot who perished in a flight accident, to a raised fist for the BLM movement, Neonakis covered some of 2020’s biggest news stories from up above.

The Black Lives Matter fist raised high—thousands of metres high—over Nova Scotia. - FLIGHTAWARE
  • Flightaware
  • The Black Lives Matter fist raised high—thousands of metres high—over Nova Scotia.

“One tragic thing after another, and there’s this crazy pilot in Nova Scotia who goes up and draws pictures,” he says. “It gave people something to talk about, and it gave them some comfort.”

He hasn’t drawn in a few months, and doesn’t have any plans in the works. But one year after the Portapique shooting, he is keeping the community close to his heart.

“I think of the families, and how they cope. It’s been a year without their loved ones. It’s not about the year that went by, it’s about them.”

Neonakis says the trials and tribulations of the last year have made him prouder than ever to call himself a Nova Scotian. “We’re Maritimers. We’re tough as nails. We support each other,” he says. “I feel closer to thousands and thousands of people than I ever have before. People I’ve never met.”

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