The Golden Hawks, 12 May 1959
|Branch||Royal Canadian Air Force|
|Role||Aerobatic flight demonstration team|
|Garrison/HQ||RCAF Station Chatham, RCAF Station Trenton|
The Golden Hawks were a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) aerobatic flying team established in 1959 to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the RCAF and the "Golden" 50th anniversary of Canadian flight, which began with the AEA Silver Dart in 1909.
Initially, a six-plane team was envisioned as performing for only one year with the Canadair Sabre 5. The Golden Hawks originally had eight pilots led by Squadron Leader Fern Villeneuve, but the Golden Hawks were so popular after their 1959 show season that the team was re-established for 1960. The team, under the command of W/C Jack Allan, and the lead of S/L Villeneuve, included pilots: F/L James McCombe, F/L Edward Rozdeba, F/L Jeb Kerr, F/L Ralph Annis, F/L Sam Eisler, F/O Jim Holt and F/O William (Bill) Stewart.
In 1961, F/L McCombe became the leader of the team, as Villeneuve left the team when he married.[N 1] Two deaths altered the makeup of the team: F/O John T. Price joined the Hawks in 1959 after F/O Eisler died, and served as second solo. When F/L Kerr died in a crash in Calgary, F/O John T. Price moved to lead solo.
F/O Stewart's routine as lead solo was often the one most remembered since his low-level aerobatics looked to the crowd to be particularly dangerous. The Golden Hawks continued performing for three more seasons until they were disbanded, ostensibly for financial reasons, on February 7, 1964, having flown a total of 317 shows across North America.
Not only did the team perform standard loops and rolls in very tight formation, they also introduced their own trademark maneuvers. The Golden Hawks pioneered a two-aircraft head-on coordinated solo program which virtually every military team since has adopted in various ways. They also invented the Card 5 Maneuver, where five aircraft fly in a card formation, two up front, one in the middle, two in the back. They also created the Coordinated Two Aircraft 360, where two aircraft fly in opposite directions at low level at about 350 miles an hour, at about seven gravities, in a horizontal circle and pass each other on both sides of the circle.
The legacy of the Golden Hawks lives on with the Canadian Forces Snowbirds and the Hawk One demonstration team established at Vintage Wings of Canada in 2009 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of powered flight in Canada.
Accidents and incidents
- 12 March 1959: A Golden Hawks Sabre crashed into a wooded area near RCAF Station Chatham while practising a co-solo routine, killing F/L Sam Eisler.
- 10 August 1959: A Golden Hawks Sabre landing at McCall Airfield, Calgary, Alberta, with the rest of the team collided with a Piper Pacer while turning base leg about two miles west of the field. The Sabre pilot, F/L Jeb Kerr, and two occupants of the Pacer were killed. The Pacer had not been authorized to enter the control zone.
- 21 June 1959: A solo Golden Hawk Sabre piloted by F/L J.T. Price was struck by a bird over Bedford Basin, Halifax, Nova Scotia shattering the windscreen and canopy. Although the pilot's helmet visor was torn away and his vision was temporarily impaired, F/L Price was able to land safely with the assistance of F/L R.H. Annis, the other solo pilot.
- 22 February 1961: Golden Hawks Sabre pilot F/O Jim McCann was killed during formation practice after the right wing of his aircraft was severely damaged during a collision with another Sabre.
- April 1961: Golden Hawks pilot F/O Bill Stewart ejected at low altitude during a practice routine near Chatham because of an engine malfunction.
Aircraft on display
Original Golden Hawks aircraft are found in several locations including Canadair Sabre 6 #23651 on display at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Mount Hope, Ontario. The original Golden Hawks Sabre 6 is on loan from the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, and is displayed with Plexiglas panels on the port side. [N 2] The National Air Force Museum of Canada has a Golden Hawks Canadair Sabre 6 (#23641) that was formerly mounted on a pylon at CFB Mountainview and is now on display at CFB Trenton, Ontario. Canadian Sabre 5 #23355 that was flown by the Golden Hawks is on display at the Atlantic Canada Aviation Museum in Halifax, Nova Scotia, after being originally dedicated in 1986 as a gate guardian at the former CFB Chatham, and ultimately restored at the museum.[N 3] A Canadair Sabre 5 (#23042) that flew with the Golden Hawks is also on display at the Technik Museum Speyer in Speyer (Rhineland-Palatinate), Germany.
Tributes and honours
In Oakville, Ontario, 540 Golden Hawks Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron is named for the air demonstration team. After their formation in 1951, the squadron chose to petition the Canadian federal government in 1964 to assume the RCAF unit's name and identity as its own. The Department of National Defense granted permission in 1968 and since that time, 540 RCAC Squadron "has been proud to officially carry the Golden Hawks name."
At the former home base for the team, the Junior A hockey team in Trenton, Ontario, takes its name from the Golden Hawks. The symbol of the team features a Sabre jet outlined in gold. Similarly, the Chatham-Kent Secondary School sport teams in the first headquarters of the aerobatic team, all take the name: Golden Hawks.
In 2009, Hawk One, a fully refurbished Canadair Sabre 5 (#23314) in Golden Hawk colours owned by Vintage Wings of Canada helped to celebrate the Centennial of Flight in Canada. Hawk One continues to perform in air shows and flypasts across Canada.
- Villeneuve and F/O Price both had to leave the team because the Golden Hawks had a rule of three years for single men, max two years for married men, since the schedule was hard on their families.
- Sabre 6 #23651 was built in 1956, flew overseas with NATO and in Canada with the Golden Hawks aerobatic team. It was transferred to the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in 1964.
- James McCombe, former lead on the Golden Hawks was a volunteer at the museum and assisted in the aircraft restoration.
- Mummery 1984, p. 8.
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- Dempsey 2002, p. 154.
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