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Former 15 Wing pilot helps Moose Jaw launch centennial celebrations for RCAF

'It’s really fun to be back here, also to be highlighting the fact we’re celebrating 100 years of the Royal Canadian Air Force. And if you think about it, all the contributions that this city — this area — has made to the air force over the years (have been great).'

A former 15 Wing airbase trainee and current astronaut returned to Moose Jaw recently to help the community launch its celebrations of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF) centennial. 

Dressed in a blue flight suit, Col. Jeremy Hansen with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) spoke to more than 600 area elementary students at A.E. Peacock Collegiate on Feb. 9 as part of an event the Moose Jaw Public Library organized.

Besides talking about his mission of flying around the moon in 2025, Hansen also touched on the RCAF’s 100th anniversary, which occurs on April 1. His talk was the first event — among likely many — in Moose Jaw to commemorate this milestone.

Hansen — born in London, Ont. — joined the Canadian Forces after high school and attended the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont. He then moved to Saskatchewan in 2001 and took pilot training in Moose Jaw — where he also met his wife.

After serving for eight years, he became an astronaut candidate in 2009 and has been a full-fledged spaceman since 2011. He is still an active-duty pilot, but because he’s in Houston, Texas, he flies NASA jets. 

“It’s really fun to be back here, also to be highlighting the fact we’re celebrating 100 years of the Royal Canadian Air Force,” Hansen said. “And if you think about it, all the contributions that this city — this area — has made to the air force over the years (have been great).”

It’s important to reflect on the air force’s contributions during the past century, including being creative and finding solutions to problems while standing on the shoulders of past giants, he continued. He commended those early airmen for stewarding the new military branch since their efforts enabled him to fly to the moon. 

Hansen, 48, recalled looking through encyclopedias as a child, starting with the letter A.

“… I liked airplanes; I don’t know why, I just did,” he said, noting he had never been in one but thought they were amazing. 

One day, he accidentally flipped ahead and came across Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. That fascinated him, so he changed his treehouse into a spaceship, started exploring space in his imagination and wondered if he would ever leave Earth. 

His dad suggested he join air cadets since he could acquire his pilot’s licence at age 12. However, Hansen noted that that wasn’t true since he had to earn a scholarship to acquire his licence at 16. Still, he says joining air cadets helped him achieve his future goals.

“Air cadets changed my life, and I would never have done that if my dad didn’t know I was interested in flying airplanes and eventually exploring space,” Hansen added.

During a media scrum afterward, Hansen said he was thrilled with the RCAF’s legacy, including where it started, where it is today and the difficulties it has overcome. 

“And now one of its members is going to be flying around the moon. And that is just a huge testament to the air force,” he continued. 

One influential RCAF person whom Hansen recognized was Lt.-Col. Joseph Armand Gerard Fernand (Fern) Villeneuve, who joined in 1950 and was the first leader of the Golden Hawks aerobatic team that flew F-86 Sabre jets.

Hansen met Villeneuve while learning to fly gliders in air cadets since the officer was then a tow pilot.

“He was sort of legendary among us as cadets. We would hear of this individual and how he had served with distinction … ,” the astronaut said. “And then I became a tow pilot and started to get to know him personally.”

The senior airmen became a mentor to the younger flyer, and years later, the latter had the “extraordinary opportunity” to fly an F-86 Sabre with a charity that flies historically significant aircraft. Since there were no flight simulators, Hansen talked to other pilots about how to fly the “museum piece.”

“I flew it in a few air shows and that was like living history to me. And that connection with Fern Villeneuve … (and) flying an airplane in his colours was really meaningful,” Hansen said.

While Hansen is fascinated with every fighter plane, he singled out the F-101 Voodoo jet because of the stories he’s heard and the fact it’s complex to operate and “a real beast” to fly.

Moreover, he commended the Cold War-era F-104 Starfighter, noting that its nickname — the Widowmaker — highlighted the risks pilots faced when flying it “for the greater good.”

Visit for information about the RCAF centennial. 

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