A group of pilots took to the Qu’Appelle Valley over May long weekend to enthuse themselves in the sport that gives them freedom and wings to fly.
Eight members of the Manitoba Hang Gliding Association (MHGA) converged on the peeks and valleys of the Qu’Appelle Valley, leaping into the winds awaiting below.
“These are our days of pilgrimage…if God didn’t want us to fly, He wouldn’t have given us aluminum,” said Gilles Normandeau, 12-year pilot and treasurer of the MHGA.
Members of the MHGA take advantage of the ridges and gullies of the Qu’Appelle Valley each year during their annual May-long and Labour Day weekend flight excursions. MHGA President Gary “Scare” Grossnegger said the Valley allows pilots to revert to the “more natural way of flight” by launching off ridges, an option unavailable in Manitoba where pilots must tow behind a lightweight aircraft or ground-base winches.
The MHGA is the Manitoba chapter of the Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association of Canada, and was founded as a volunteer, non-profit organization in June 1978 by Pat Boychuk. The Association aims to promote the safe enjoyment of the sport, promote public awareness of hang gliding and to promote excellence in the sport through competition.
The air sport attracts a small niche of adrenaline junkies, with only 850 or so members across Canada.
Hang gliding is an air sport in which a pilot flies an unpowered and light foot-launchable glider aircraft known as a hang glider. Most modern hang gliders weight between 60-80 pounds, and are constructed of an aluminum or composite framed fabric wing. The pilot is mounted on a full-body harness hanging from the airframe, and controls the aircraft by shifting his body weight. In case of emergency, a reserve parachute is available, but only viable if pilots have enough altitude. The hang gliders are also equipped with a Global Positioning System and barometer which indicates altitude- climb rate or decent. Communication is not generally used, but pilots do have the option of using an air band frequency used for sport flying or an amateur or FRS frequency.
These are our days of pilgrimage…if God didn’t want us to fly, He wouldn’t have given us aluminum - Gilles Normandeau
In controlled airspace, pilots are required to have radio communications, although the Qu’Appelle Valley is uncontrolled airspace.
Technology has evolved to allow hang glider pilots to soar for hours and across hundreds of miles at thousands of feet of altitude in thermal updrafts. Although the record hang gliding flight is 410 miles, set by a pilot in Texas, MHGA pilots averaged “cross country” flights between 10-30 kilometres distance over the May- long weekend.
“Trying to fly as far and as high as we can- that’s our goal,” said James Gross, flying since 1999.