Flying high again: Hang gliding champ shows off aerial skills

Matt Gardner
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For more than three decades, local hang glider John Theoret has fervently taken to the skies enjoying a sport that is as much a lifestyle as it is a hobby.

In all that time, the transcendent thrill Theoret experiences during takeoff has not diminished one iota.

“It’s awesome -- such an adrenaline rush,” he enthused. “I get it every time, and after 34 years, I still get an adrenaline rush from this … It’s just a wonderful, break-free-from-the-bonds-of-the-earth type of thing.”

On Monday, the Daily Herald tagged along for a flying demonstration with Theoret, who recently became the first Saskatchewan resident ever to win the Canadian Hang Gliding National Championship.

Taking place over wheat fields near the village of St. Isidore de Bellevue, the hang gliding demonstration included invaluable assistance from a pair of Theoret’s friends.

James Wiebe drove a pickup truck with a winch and cable attached to the hang glider that provided the necessary momentum for liftoff, while Barney Sullivan controlled the winch itself, located in the back of the truck.

“I’ve helped him out and it’s just fun being with him … Each one of us has kind of our part,” Wiebe said.

The preparation required for a hang gliding flight is lengthy, with Theoret first having to assemble his hang glider.

Among the elements making up the structure of the glider are a series of battens -- lightweight metal poles whose function Theoret compared to the bones in bats’ wings.

With the glider assembled, he hooked it into the back into an apparatus attached to the back of his pickup truck before suiting up for the flight.

The hang glider is initially attached to a lengthy cable that goes through the winch.

“When he releases, the rope starts to drop and he can fly away where he wants to,” Sullivan noted.

Driving the pickup truck with Theoret at the back of the car, Wiebe reached speeds of approximately 60 kilometres per hour in order to attain enough momentum for liftoff.

Pulling the release mechanism, Theoret shot into the air as the cable whirled out through the winch, flying well over one hundred feet into the air before the cable was de-attached from the glider.

From the ground, the experience of taking off can be very intense -- yet upon taking to the skies, Theoret’s hang glider could be seen moving gracefully through the air, flying across sizable distances for several minutes before he finally landed.

During one of his flights on Monday, Theoret flew over the childhood home of his father. Beside the house was a barn from which, as a child, the elder Theoret fashioned a hang glider from poplar trees and burlap -- later inspiring his son to take up the sport.

“His dreams became mine,” John Theoret noted.

Despite his impressive appearance from the ground, Theoret said afterwards that he was unable to find any thermals -- rising columns of air that help provide propulsion for hang gliders in flight.

In part, the lack of thermals was attributable to the blazing hot summer weather, which is less conducive to creating thermals than cooler weather.

“Saskatchewan’s particularly challenging in the summertime because of the greenery of the crop,” Theoret said.

“It has a harder time for things to warm up enough to start to rise,” he added. “That’s basically why summertimes are tougher than spring and fall.”

After 34 years, I still get an adrenaline rush from this. John Theoret

Theoret made two successful flights at Monday’s demonstration, but aborted a third attempt after a rope on the cone of his glider broke prematurely, causing the glider to come off the truck slower than usual.

Passing over the truck with his glider, Theoret managed to make a landing in front of the vehicle and walked away relatively unscathed.

While describing the incident as very rare -- “the worst incident in 34 years of flying and towing,” he noted -- Theoret nevertheless pointed to it as underlying the importance of experience and taking proper safety precautions.

“I consider myself to be a professional, and when something like that happens, you’ve just got to stay calm and review very quickly what you need to do and just do it,” he said. “If you do the proper things, you can walk away from an incident like that, which I did.”

He added, “It all depends, like any sport, on the attitude of the person.”

See also:

Local hang glider wins national championship

Johnny Glide: aeronaut extraordinaire

Organizations: Daily Herald

Geographic location: Saskatchewan

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