Dan Fortin and the Nanchang CJ6A make a memorable sight wherever they go. And not because Dan is six foot three with a shaved head and a flashing smile or because the aircraft he flies is a bad-girl shade of Dodge Viper Red, emblazoned with a fire-breathing dragon. You can't miss him simply because he flies that Commie-red flying machine like a man possessed - looping, barrel rolling, and accelerating down the runway like Mao Tse Tung with a “Glorious Revolution Rocket” strapped to his back.
Over the past two years, Dan Fortin, Michel Côté and the Nanchang CJ6A have graced the skies at Vintage Wings of Canada's Open Houses as well as the Classic Air Rallye this past month. Montreal businessman Côté owns the former Chinese Air Force training aircraft, but it is usually flown at Open Houses by Fortin. Like-minded aviators like Fortin and Côté have enabled Vintage Wings to fully animate our open house events, offering visitors a look at some pretty unique aircraft and help make us one of the epicentres of vintage aircraft activity in this country.
Dan Fortin, 39, was born in Victoriaville, Québec, the son of two members of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Though both his parents were from the same street in Victoriaville, they never met until both were stationed at Baden Baden, Germany during the RCAF's CF-104 Starfighter days. With his mother, a supply tech and his father, a CF-104 safety systems technician, Dan was steeped in aviation from birth, attending his first air show at a mere 6 months.
Dan knew he would be a pilot at an early age, and joined the Royal Canadian Air Cadets in 1980 at age 13. The cadets gave him the opportunity to fly and he received his glider qualification in 1984, followed by a private pilot's license in '85. He went straight from cadets to the air force in 1986, but half way through his Tutor course at Moose Jaw, he lost his medical for, of all things, “airsickness” and could not continue to fly. How is it possible, you might ask, that a man who can wring the soy sauce out the Nanchang and whose head is shaved because he's always “upside down with his hair on fire” can get scrubbed for airsickness? Fortin attributes it to a heat wave at the “Jaw” that laid him low that summer. Whatever the explanation and despite his natural ability, Fortin's military career had taken a broadside and he left in 1989.
The Nanchang CJ6A, a Chinese design development based on the Soviet Yak-18, is a beautiful airplane. The previous owner had a thing for speed and had it painted red to exactly match his Dodge Viper. The design does not reflect an actual Chinese Air Force unit or aircraft but rather to look like the People's Republic flag. Photo: Eric Dumigan
But Fortin was destined to be a flyer, heat wave or no heat wave. He moved to the Ottawa area and began training for his commercial and IFR tickets at Carp Airport, former BCATP relief field for RCAF Station Uplands, becoming a flying instructor by 1990. He began commercial charter flying in Piper Navahos in the early 1990s and met his future friend Côté in 1995. The flowing year, Côté bought the Chinese Air Force trainer in Vancouver and Dan ferried it home. Both men have built up many hours on the “CJ” as Fortin calls the immaculately cared for Nanchang. Today, Dan Fortin has over 600 hours on the type.
After several years flying executive charter, med-evac flights (one year, he logged 970 hours in a Cheyenne II XL air ambulance!), and as a simulator instructor and business jet "rent-a-pilot", he now commands a Canadair Challenger 604 for a major Canadian financial company.
Fortin loves his day job, but loves his weekend "job" even more. He is a member of the Red Star Pilot Association, an organization of non-military pilots who are qualified on aircraft former Soviet Bloc and Sino-sphere countries and now has many aerobatic qualifications such as "Formation Instructor" and “Formation Lead”. He is presently working up a 3-ship formation aerobatic routine with two friends flying Yakovlev Y-52TWs(Tail Wheel). Fortin has also flown such legendary jets as the French Fouga Magister, Czech Avia L-39 Albatross and the British single seat Hawker Hunter,
Some of the unique features of the Nanchang are visible in this shot - its tricycle landing gear, large tail surface, bent wings and radial louvres used to control engine temperature. Photo: Eric Dumigan
As he sits with me in the cool shade of the VIP tent at Classic Air Rallye 2007, Fortin munches on a roast beef sandwich, swigs from a water bottle and leans conspiratorially toward me. He nods lovingly to where his girl friend of 18 years sits in the sun, then out the tent flap to where the lipstick-red CJ sits against the hangar wall and says with a beaming smile “I lead a charmed life, man. What can I say? ”
Trailing smoke and gaining speed, Dan Fortin keeps the CJ low along the runway before one of his signature pitch ups . Photo Eric Dumigan