Aviation community says goodbye to Fern Villeneuve

Avatar for Eric DumiganBy Eric Dumigan | December 27, 2019

Estimated reading time 4 minutes, 34 seconds.

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.

Fern Villeneuve sits in Hawk One, an F-86 Sabre restored in 2009 to mark the centennial of powered flight in Canada. It was painted in the livery of the Golden Hawks aerobatic team, which Villeneuve founded and led. Eric Dumigan Photo

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.

Fern Villeneuve kept flying until his death on Dec. 25, 2019. Eric Dumigan Photo

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.

During his flying career, Villeneuve accumulated more than 8,000 hours of jet time. Eric Dumigan Photo

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.




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  1. I was a cadet at CRGS in Trenton in 1985. I remember the Colonel well. Godspeed, sir, a keep up your airspeed as you soar with angels

  2. We have lost a great aviator and friend. I first met Fern when I was with # 401 Sqn. based at St. Hubert QC in the late 50’s. We became friends when I settled in Prince Edward County and saw Fern at our Picton Flying Club events , and, during the summer when he was running the Air Cadet gliding activities in The County.He was also a member of our local Air Force Association. Self deprecating and a true gentleman, Fern will be missed but his legacy will live on.

  3. I first met Fern when I was flying out of St. Hubert QC with RCAF # 401 Sqn in the late 50’s. Fern was a true Aviator and gentleman and in the mid 90’s we became friends here in Prince Edward County when Fern was running the Air Cadet gliding program at Deseronto….Picton and Mountain View. He was a member of the Prince Edward Flying Club and our local RCAF Association Wing.and gave of himself to help the aspiring cadets gain their wings.We have lost a great fiend, but his legacy will live on.

  4. My dad Marc Savoie was his technical crew member of the 1959 Golden Hawks team , Fernand was his pilot , he told me many stories about his year with the famous Goldfen Hawks and had high reguards towards Fernand and his mastery of flying , he would like to send his sympathies to the family and friends , thank you Mr Villeneuve for your service and making us proud to be Canadian.

  5. W/C Villeneuve, you have been an inspiring leader to all francophones who served in the RCAF. Thank you for your service. A life well lived. Merci beaucouip. RIP Sir.

  6. My Dad was career RCAF, and as a young boy living in the PMQ’s at Rockcliffe Air Base, we had the opportunity to watch the “Hawks” practice and perform every Air Force Day. Blue Skies Fern, and thanks for some great memories !

  7. As leader of the 1959/60 Golden Hawks Fern was a hero of mine. Later he became a good friend flying his Globe Swift to various air meets around Ontario and Quebec. He will be sadly missed.

  8. I was posted from CFS Sioux Lookout in July 1971, as a 35 year old former UBC Serving Airman Plan officer,(class of ’68) to 414 Electronic Warfare Sqn, Uplands, where W/C Ferb Villeneuve, was CO. Because he was busy flying his “clunks” aka CF 100, he allowed me to do the administrative side of the Sqn, which incidentally, included the dozen or so T33 aircraft used by desk-bound Pilots from NDHQ for compulsory flying to maintain their respective qualification.
    In 1986, as a Major, I was posted, unaccompanied, to Base Trenton as Base Pers AdminO and resided there in Quarters. W/C Villeneuve, living near-by, was then in the RCAF Reserves managing the RCAC Glider Program and we were lunch-time buddies in the Officers’ Mess on many occasions.
    We will miss this great officer and person.(As an afterthought: When this great officer was forced, through age, to retire from the Reserve Force he told me that his only regret was having to walk out the door in a “green” uniform while the recently approved Air Force blues were being issued. Friend Sgt Alvin Josey, RCAF Borden solved the issue by contacting his buddy, MWO Joe McDonnell, Trenton Base Supply. A very proud airman/officer retired a second time in style.

  9. My husband and I met Fern several times on the Ontario GA weekend Fly-In Breakfast Circuit ($50.00 eggs circuit); Fern in his beloved Swift and us in our Cherokee. Always a storyteller, quiet, unassuming and loved by everyone. For this last trip Fern it will forever be blue skies and CAVOK.

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