Ralph Annis, Golden Hawks pilot, dies at 87

Golden Hawks pilots

Ralph Annis, third from right, with the 1959 Golden Hawks pilots.
Photo: RCAF courtesy of Dan Dempsey

From RCAF Public Affairs

Col (retired) Ralph Hamilton Annis, RCAF fighter pilot and a pioneer of Canadian aerobatic displays, died in McAdam, New Brunswick on May 17.

Annis was born in 1931 and grew up in McAdam. He enrolled in the RCAF at 17, and served as a radar technician until 1950, when he decided to remuster to aircrew. He received his pilot wings in 1951, and never looked back.

He flew the F-86 Sabre with 441 Squadron in North Luffenham, U.K., until mid-1953, when he moved to Zweibrücken, West Germany, and served as an instrument instructor until late 1954.

On his return to Canada, he joined the Overseas Ferry Unit, flying F-86 Sabre and T-33 Silver Star jet aircraft to Europe. While with the unit, he set a cross-Canada speed record, flying a Sabre from Vancouver to Halifax in five hours and 30 seconds, annihilating the previous record by an hour and 20 minutes. He also flew Vampires and Harvards over the course of his RCAF career.

In 1959 and 1960, Col Annis again flew the F-86, this time as the lead solo pilot with Canada’s aerobatic team, the Golden Hawks, for the first two of their five years of cross-Canada air shows. He transferred to the CF-104 Starfighter, flying with squadrons at Cold Lake and Zweibrücken until 1965.

He came home to attend Staff College in 1966. After graduation, he was appointed commanding officer of two CF-104 squadrons, first 444 Squadron and then 421 Squadron, in Baden-Sollingen, West Germany.

In 1973 he was appointed base commander of Canadian Forces Base Moose Jaw.

He took over as base commander from Canadian Forces Snowbirds’ founder Col Owen Bartley “O.B.” Philp. Like his predecessor, Col Annis was an outspoken supporter of the relatively new Snowbirds team. As base commander, he played a pivotal role in keeping the Snowbirds alive: in 1974, he personally lobbied Minister of National Defence James Richardson (and others) to overturn a recommendation by the Chief of the Defence Staff to disband the team. His backdoor diplomacy worked, and the Snowbirds were ultimately awarded permanent squadron status in 1978.

“Those Snowbirds who flew with the team during Col Annis’ tenure as base commander will know full well the tremendous support he afforded the organization during those vital early years,” says LCol (retired) Dan Dempsey, a former commanding officer and team leader of the Snowbirds. “From a personal perspective, for those of us who were taking our flying training on the Tutor at that time, Colonel Annis was a larger-than-life leader for whom we had the utmost respect and admiration.”

Col Annis’ RCAF career also took him to Colorado, as Deputy Commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) Cheyenne Mountain facility, and farther afield, to Egypt, where he served as eputy Commander of United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) II, established to supervise the ceasefire between Egyptian and Israeli forces. Following the conclusion of the agreements of January 18, 1974, and September 4, 1975, he supervised the redeployment of Egyptian and Israeli forces and oversaw and controlled the buffer zones established under those agreements.

Col Annis retired from the Air Force at 48, in 1979, and settled back into McAdam, where he was close to his beloved camp on Palfrey Lake. Many years of fishing, hunting, maple sugaring, swimming, four-wheeling and sledding followed. His seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren have learned to love the outdoors in the woods around the lake.

In retirement, he flew the TBM Avenger, spraying forests (“bombing budworms”, as he called it). He served as mayor of McAdam, started a motel, and ran for the New Brunswick Legislature (as a Liberal, in the year every single seat was taken by the Tories), and served as Dominion Vice President of the Royal Canadian Legion. He was appointed to the Veterans’ Pensions Appeal Board and moved to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, for a few years.

He was supported throughout his life by his devoted wife, Margaret, who died in 2014, and their five children. In 2017, he moved into Wauklehegan Manor in McAdam.

With files from Dan Dempsey.