Aviation community says goodbye to Fern Villeneuve

News Article / January 10, 2020

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By Eric Dumigan

Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame inductee and first leader of the RCAF Golden Hawks Demonstration Team, Lieutenant-Colonel (retired) Joseph Armand Gerard Fernand “Fern” Villeneuve, passed away on Christmas morning 2019.

Born in what is now Gatineau, Quebec, on July 2, 1927, Villeneuve joined the Air Cadet training program in 1943. He earned his private pilot license in 1946 and obtained his commercial pilot license 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, Quebec.

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, Quebec, 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, Manitoba, on T-33s. Two years later he was posted to the Central Flying School at Trenton, Ontario, 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. He personally picked the members for the team, dubbed the Golden Hawks, led the training and choreographed the routine. Villeneuve led the team for two years and performed 134 air displays across North America. On November 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, Villeneuve 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 Bagotville as base operations officer and flew CF-101 Voodoos. He retired in 1982 after an assignment as base administration officer at Canadian Forces Base North Bay, Ontario.

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 Reserve Force 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 Canadian Forces Base Trenton.  He retired from the Reserve Force 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.

This article is translated and reproduced with the kind permission of the author and of Skies Magazine, on whose website it originally appeared.


Oshawa Funeral Home, Oshawa, Ontario

July 2, 1927—December 25, 2019

It is with great sadness we announce the passing of RCAF Lieutenant-Colonel (retired) Fernand Gerard Villeneuve at the Hamilton General Hospital on December 25th. Fern was in his 92nd year and succumbed to his injuries suffered as a result of a car accident.

Fern was predeceased by his loving wife Lynda Villeneuve (Estlin). Fern had two passions in his life, his wife Lynda and flying.

Fern started his aviation career in 1946, where he obtained his private pilot’s license in Ottawa and then moved on to attain his commercial license in 1948. Fern then joined the RCAF in 1950 where he amassed thousands of hours flying piston aircraft and fighter jets. Fern was the first leader of the famed Golden Hawks demonstration team where he led the team during the 1959 and 1960 seasons.

Fern was also awarded the Air Force Cross as a result of his actions during a night mission in an F-86 Sabre that suffered an engine failure. Fern maneuvered his jet away from a village, chose not to eject and deadsticked the jet to the runway, suffering a serious back injury.

Fern continued to fly fighters after his recovery and eventually retired in 1982. Fern then took his experience and talents and joined the Reserve Force and became the commanding officer of the Central Regional Gliding School for the Air Cadet Program.

At the age of 65, Fern had to hang up the uniform and became a civilian instructor with the program for a number of years, where he continued to mentor new and old pilots.

Fern continued his aviation endeavours where he flew numerous home-built aircraft and actively flew his Globe Swift until the day of his car accident on December 22nd. Over the course of his aviation career, Fern amassed over 14,000 of flying in fighter jets and piston aircraft. Over 6,000 of those hours was in the air cadet Bellanca Scout tow plane and in his Globe Swift.

Fern was inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame in 2006 and was one of two living people to have their faces on a Canadian coin in 1997 – the other was Queen Elizabeth II.

A private cremation has taken place. Interment at the Beechwood Military Cemetery in Ottawa will be on June 6th, 2020.


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