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Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame inductee and first leader of the RCAF Golden Hawks Demonstration Team, Lt. Col (Ret.) Joseph Armand Gerard Fernand “Fern” Villeneuve passed away on Christmas morning 2019.
Born in what is now Gatineau, Que., July 2, 1927, Villeneuve he joined the Air Cadet training program in 1943. He earned his private pilot licence in 1946 and obtained his commercial pilot licence in 1948. In 1950, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and served for 32 years as a fighter pilot. His first posting was with 441 Squadron flying F-86 Sabres at St. Hubert, Que.
In 1952, while serving in England, Villeneuve commanded the squadron’s demonstration team and performed several demonstration flights. In 1954, with 431 Squadron at Bagotville, he formed a four-ship demonstration team that performed across Canada. In 1955, he began instructing at the Advanced Flying Training School at Portage La Prairie, Man., on T-33s. Two years later he was posted to the Central Flying School at Trenton, Ont., where he worked on procedures to make forced landings safer. He was also appointed Jet Flight Examination Officer.
In 1958, Villeneuve was directed to form an official RCAF Demonstration Team by the Chief of Air Staff to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the RCAF and the 50th anniversary of flight in Canada in 1959. Named the Golden Hawks, he personally picked the team members, lead the training and choreographed the routine. Villeneuve led the team for two years and performed 134 air displays across North America. On Nov. 7, 1960, during a routine night training flight, the engine failed in the F-86 he was flying. To ensure the safety of people on the ground he remained with the Sabre and did not eject, instead opting for a crash landing. For his courage in avoiding a more tragic event, Villeneuve was awarded the Air Force Cross.
In 1965, he was appointed Commanding Officer of 434 Squadron operating CF-104 Starfighters at Zweibruken, Germany. Two years later, at the height of the Cold War, Villenuve was promoted to Wing Commander. By 1970, he was in Ottawa commanding 414 Electronic Warfare Squadron and in 1972 was appointed head of the Accident Investigation Branch, an area in which he excelled. He was not only charged with investigating the causes of accidents but also researching human and aircraft factors to prevent them. In 1976, Villeneuve was posted to CFB Bagotville as Base Operations Officer and flew CF-101 Voodoos. He retired in 1982 after an assignment as Base Administration Officer at CFB North Bay.
Villeneuve accumulated over 8,000 hours of jet time in an Air Force career that spanned three decades.
In 1983, to support the Air Cadet training program, he joined the Reserves and became the operations officer of the Central Region Gliding School. His Air Force experienced allowed him to improve and update training standards in the program. From 1984 to 1987, Villeneuve also served as commanding officer of the Regional Cadet Gliding School at CFB Trenton. He retired from the Reserves in 1992, but continued as a civilian instructor with the Air Cadets for another 10 years.
In 2006, Fern Villeneuve was inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame.
“Fern,” as he was known to many, regularly flew his Globe Swift until he passed away at the age of 92 from injuries sustained in a car accident.