Flying through northern lights 'really surreal' for Calgary photographer

As a professional photographer and self-described aurora borealis hunter, Calgarian Neil Zeller is always looking for a unique view of the northern lights.

Neil Zeller captures aurora borealis from cockpit of Boeing 737

The northern lights dance across the sky above Yukon. (Submitted by Neil Zeller)

As a professional photographer and self-described aurora hunter, Calgarian Neil Zeller is always looking for a unique view of the northern lights.

And last weekend, he got one of the most unique views possible — from the cockpit of a Boeing 737 as it soared through the skies above Yukon.

Zeller was the official photographer for an inaugural tour put on by Air North, the Yukon Astronomical Society and Travel Yukon which saw the plane take off from Whitehorse just after midnight Nov. 25 with nearly 100 on board for a four-hour flight.

"We had a set loop we were going to do but it was adjusted and changed because we were up there to basically chase the northern lights," said Zeller.

"We weren't stuck to any particular route so we were able to look with our eyes where the lights were and follow those."

Finding the northern lights didn't take long. Nine minutes to be exact.

The northern lights seen through the front window of a Boeing 737 above Yukon. (Submitted by Neil Zeller)

"We took off, were coming through the clouds and they were there," said Zeller.

But the real highlight came near the end of the flight

"We ended up flying under the auroral arch," said Zeller.

"The aurora goes around the top of the Earth... and typically on the ground you have to look at them from underneath or from the side. But we actually flew under them and it was really surreal. There isn't a comparison, it felt like you were in them."

The northern lights over Yukon, captured during a tour last weekend. (Submitted by Neil Zeller)

A professional photographer for the last five years, Zeller has made several trips to Yukon — something he does regularly for work and leisure — and says he always tries to get a seat on the right side of the airplane, which offers the best views when the bright green aurora borealis are visible.

He was invited on last weekend's flights thanks to a timelapse he made in September while flying to Yukon.

Air North representatives saw it online and asked to use it to promote the tour. That led to a conversation and him securing a seat as the official photographer, where along with taking his own shots, he lent his expertise to others on board, who hailed from 17 different countries.

"If it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I'm satisfied," he said. "That was an incredible weekend."