RCAF Golden Hawks Celebrated at Miramichi

Story and photos by John Chalmers
CAHS Membership Secretary

From September 15-17, 2017, a “Celebration of Excellence” was held at Miramichi, New Brunswick, to honour the Golden Hawks, the legendary aerobatic team of the Royal Canadian Air Force, which flew Canadian built F-86 Sabres. Earlier, in June 2017 at the induction dinner and ceremonies of Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame, the Golden Hawks received the Belt of Orion Award for Excellence. The Award is given “to honour organizations, groups, societies or associations who have made outstanding contributions to the advancement of aviation in Canada.”


Accepting the Belt of Orion Award was J.A.G. Fernand “Fern” Villeneuve, who as a Squadron Leader in the RCAF was the first team commander of the Golden Hawks. Fern retired as a Wing Commander with the RCAF and in 2006 was himself inducted as a Member of Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame. At left is Hall of Fame board chairman Rod Sheridan. At right is Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, Judith Guichon, a guest presenter and speaker for the event. (Rick Radell photo)


The Golden Hawks flew 317 incident-free performances from 1959 to 1963, but during preparations for the 1964 season, the team was stood down as a result of budget cuts to the air force. (RCAF photo)


The original Golden Hawks pilots, 1959, left to right: F/O Bill Stewart, F/O Jim Holt, F/O John Price, S/L Fern Villeneuve, F/L Ed Rozdeba, F/L Ralph Annis, F/L Jim McCombe, F/L Jeb Kerr. (RCAF photo)


On September 16, 1967, a Golden Hawks Appreciation Day was held at RCAF Station Chatham, New Brunswick, the original home of the team. At Miramichi, minutes away from the site of the former Chatham base (now the Miramichi Airport) fifty years later on September 15-17, 2017, celebrations were held to honour again the Golden Hawks and their place in Canadian aviation. Former Golden Hawks pilots and technicians seen with guest speaker Major General Blaise Frawley, Deputy Commander of the RCAF (in uniform) are, left to right: Jean St.-Pierre, George Miller, John Elmose, Blaise Frawley, Ed McKeogh, Mick Nordeen, Dick Clements and Gerry Homer.


Pipes and drum from the 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown in New Brunswick added colour and drama to the celebration dinner on September 16.


Retired RCAF Captain Kevin Anderson, the executive director of the New Brunswick Aviation Museum, with support from his committee, organized the historic celebration. The event brought together pilots, ground crew and family members of Golden Hawks personnel. Activities for the 90 people attending included a tribute dinner on September 16, 2017, to honour the team as the high point of the celebration.


Bringing greetings from Quinte West, Ontario (formerly Trenton), the final home of the Golden Hawks, was Mayor Jim Harrison at the microphone and city councillors left to right, Don Kuntze, Keith Reid and David McCue. Also speaking at the dinner was local Member of Parliament, Pat Finnigan. The Government of New Brunswick and Quinte West were major financial supporters of the celebration.


John Chalmers, left, represented Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame at the celebration, as Historian for the Hall. At right is featured dinner speaker, Gerald Haddon. He is a grandson of J.A.D. McCurdy, who was the first person to fly in Canada, and spoke of McCurdy’s contributions to aviation. McCurdy’s historic first flight was with the Silver Dart at Baddeck, Nova Scotia, on February 23, 1909. Gerald has served as RCAF Honorary Colonel of the Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Technology and Engineering, 16 Wing, Borden, Ontario.


Retired RCAF Lieutenant Colonel Dan Dempsey, a former team commander of the Snowbirds, and author of A Tradition of Excellence: Canada’s Airshow Team Heritage, spoke of the development of Canadian aerobatic teams and the reputation and influence of the Golden Hawks upon teams that followed – the Golden Centennaires in 1967 and the Snowbirds since 1971.


Former Golden Hawks pilots, F/L Ed McKeogh, left, and F/L George Miller both took the microphone at the celebration to pay tribute to the dedicated and talented ground crew technicians who kept the team’s F-86 Sabres in the air. George later served as team commander for the Snowbirds and retired with the rank of Colonel.


While Kevin Anderson holds the container of tickets, John Elmose draws one for another door prize at the dinner. Retiring as a Corporal with the RCAF, John had served as a crew chief for all the years of the team’s operation.


Fifty-four years after he flew as a Golden Hawks pilot, Ed McKeogh donated his flying suit to the New Brunswick Aviation Museum. An extensive exhibit of Golden Hawks memorabilia from the New Brunswick Aviation Museum was displayed throughout the weekend. Flying suits, prints of the team, the Belt of Orion certificate, models, display panels, log books and other artifacts were included.


All in attendance received a copy of a new 94-page history about the Golden Hawks, A Celebration of Excellence, which includes photos, names of all pilots and ground crew who served on the team, articles about the Golden Hawks that had appeared in the former RCAF journal, The Roundel, and first-person accounts by team members.


Notable among the items on display were five massive volumes of Golden Hawks history, photos, documents and news clippings compiled by the late crew chief Bill Briggs, who had donated them to the Museum. Many of the photographs included in the albums were taken by Bill himself.


A “logbook cake” replicating one made for the 1967 Appreciation Day for the Golden Hawks at RCAF Station Chatham names all pilots of the 1959-1963 teams and many of the places where they flew at air shows.


Unveiling a new painting by Peter Robichaud are left to right, George Miller, Blaise Frawley and former LAC Mick Nordeen, an RCAF ground crew technician for the Golden Hawks.


The new Golden Hawks history book and a print of Robichaud's painting can be ordered from the New Brunswick Aviation Museum: A challenge ahead for the museum is to locate a permanent home. See:



The final event of the weekend honouring the Golden Hawks was a memorial service on September 17, conducted by an RCAF Chaplain, Major Al Murphy. The service was held to remember Golden Hawks pilots who lost their lives while flying in accidents during training or practice sessions: F/L Leonard ”Sam” Eisler; F/L Jeb Kerr; F/L Jim McCann; and F/O David Barker, who was flying later with the Golden Centennaires when an accident took his life.

Information about all individuals and organizations that have been honoured by Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame can be found at the Hall’s web site. The Hall encourages nomination of individuals as Members and nominations of organizations for the Belt of Orion Award. CAHS chapters and their members are invited to consider nominations for the Hall of Fame. Details and nomination forms can be found at the Hall’s web site: Note: The deadline for submission each year is May 31. The 2018 gala dinner and induction ceremonies will be held in Calgary on June 7.