City of Prince George

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Junkers F.13 CF-ALX at 6 Mile Lake, 1930
City of Prince George - Christening Day, June 15, 1930
Photo courtesy of Fraser-Fort George Regional Museum

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Junkers F.13s of the Air-Land Manufacturing Company in British Columbia

by Stephen Bathy

McConnell Lake is one hundred and twenty miles north from Takla Landing. It lies in a valley with walls about one thousand feet high bordering it, and then, sloping back a mile on each side ore mountains five thousand feet high. It is about one and a half miles long and three hundred yards wide at the narrowest part, and lies North and South.

At 12:30 Sunday, July 23rd, with two passengers and engineer, I took off. A nice south wind was blowing on the lake. I cleared the end of the lake at about six hundred and fifty feet; about a mile from the lake I ran into a strong downward current coming from the southwest, and with full motor I was gradually forced down to the trees. Twice I got a little upward lift, and again was forced down, and then a tree took one pontoon, and I got a shot upwards and had hopes of clearing the trees, but again the aircraft settled down, this time right into the trees. I saw an opening about thirty feet wide a little to my right. I dropped my right wing and cut the switch and managed to hit the ground flat, both wings striking trees. The aircraft was cut in two just behind the cabin. The tail section sat upright and the front half rolled over on its back. Except for a few scratches no one was injured.

The damage is, wings, fuselage, floats, undercarriage, total wreck; radiator and motor base stove in, prop. broken off at hub and motor mount bent.

Instruments apparently alright. ( l )

So states W.R. (Bill) McCluskey in his pilot's accident report about his accident on July 23rd, 1933 that ended the short but illustrious career of the City of Prince George.

CF-ALX, a Junkers F.13 gle powered by a Junkers L-5 engine of 280/310 hp, was manufactured by Junkers in Germany in l930. It was assembled at the hangar on the Middle Arm of the Fraser River on May 5th, 1930 by Ted Cressy and air tested by him and Bill Joerss. CF-ALX was first registered to Air Land-Manufacturing Company of Vancouver, B.C. on May 27th, 1930.

The company's other plane, a Junkers F.13 lov was built in Germany in 1923 and was registered CF-AMX. To operate the two aircraft, the company hired three pilots, Wilhelm A. (Bill) Joerss, Edward Joseph Augustus (Paddy) Burke and F. Maurice McGregor, and two engineers, Theodore H. (Ted) Cressy and Emil Kading.

CF-ALX was piloted by Bill Joerss, a former WWI German pilot, who after the war flew Junkers planes and was the proud possessor of the Junkers Corporation silver service medal award for covering 170,000 miles [275,000 km] in Junkers machines without having a single crash charged against him. This was an excellent testimonial to his skill as a pilot. (2)

On June 5th, 1930, Joerss flew CF-ALX to Prince George and after circling a couple of times over the city, he landed at Six Mile [now Tabor] Lake. (3)

The aircraft was to be christened, with great hope:City of Prince George. She was to bring to Prince George access to the northern parts of the Province for a whole new industry, exploration and development of the rich mining properties. The owners of the aeroplane were optimistic about the potential of the area and sure they would realize a profit. The men were daring flyers and the eventual demise of CF-ALX indicates the challenge in flying over remote British Columbia in the 1930s.

The christening ceremonies took place on Sunday, June l5th, 1930 at Six Mile Lake.

Mayor Patterson in opening the proceedings said he regarded it as a great compliment to the city that the big Junkers plane of the Vancouver company should be named in its honour... .Mayor Patterson then officially declared the name of the handsome Junkers machine to be the City of Prince George and after his little daughter had cracked the bottle of wine over the plane's nose he called for three cheers for pilot Joerss, who had made numerous friends in the city since his arrival. The response of the crowd to the mayor's invitation was instantaneous, and the cheers were given with great spirit. ...Pilot Joerss announces he will hold the City of Prince George in readiness to make flights at $25, taking five passengers, at any time by arrangement, the fare for an individual being $5.00 conditional upon a compliment of five passengers being secured. Flights will be made to local points at the rate of $1.50 per mile, carrying five passengers. If a night stop is made the charge for the return trip will be $50. (4)

So started the career of the City of Prince George in northern British Columbia.

The arrival of the plane always created great excitement in the city.

On July 27, 1930 there was a lot of excitement in Prince George when a plane flew low over the city making a complete circle.

Most people thought it was the machine of Wiley Post, on the next to last lap of his round-the-world flight, or if not Post, then Jimmy Mattern. The plane was flying so low that its intent to drop into Six Mile Lake was evident, and soon half of the autos in town were scooting along the streets at top speed, all headed to the lake. The plane landed at the lake alright, but it proved to be the City of Prince George, which is now engaged in prospecting work for a Vancouver syndicate. (5)

The plane changed hands in 1933. "On May 17,1933, the aircraft was sold to Victor Spencer, Vancouver, B.C. and used to support prospecting operations in Northern B.C. and the Yukon."(6)

On July 23rd, Bill McCluskey, with air engineer (mechanic) Fred Stanes, and two prospectors, Gordy McLennan and Hugh McMillan, was taking off from McConnell Lake approximately 190 km north of Takla Landing. What happened was reported in The Vancouver Sun:

McCluskey...was attempting to climb out of the cup-like depression of McConnell Lake, a feat dreaded by all aviators who have attempted it, except under most favourable conditions. McCluskey encountered a heavy down draft which drove the Plane into the timber, wiping off one pontoon. He managed to right the plane and keep it in the air, but was hit by another down draft which again swiped him into the trees, the plane losing the tail section in the crash. Pilot and passengers had a miraculous escape from serious injury in the crash which left the plane a total wreck....Word of the crash was brought into Takla lake by a miner who made the tough trip in five days.(7)

On August 3rd, Ken Dewar, piloting a plane belonging to Consolidated Mining & Smeltering Company of Canada, picked up the survivors.

The City of Prince George lay in the bush for almost fifty years. In 1981,the Winnipeg based Western Canada Aviation Museum organized a successful expedition under the leadership of K. D. Olson and recovered the wreckage of CF-ALX. However one of her pontoons was left behind because it was "apparently being used as a canoe by the resident prospector" (8) on McConnell Lake.

The flying career of the Air-Land Manufacturing Company's other Junkers F.13, CF-AMX was also very colourful though one of her flights ended in tragedy.

On October llth 1930, Paddy Burke, an ex-RAF Flight Lieutenant, took off from Liard Post for Atlin in northwestern British Columbia. Also aboard were air engineer Emil Kading and a prospector named Robert (Three-Finger Bob) Martin. They flew into a snowstorm and decided to follow the Liard River in hope of reaching Wolf Lake [Yukon], but CF-AMX

was forced down by a snowstorm and landed on the river. The next day, Burke tried to resume the flight, only to be forced down on the Liard once again. This time the bottoms were torn out of the floats, totally disabling the aircraft. Seeing no alternative, the party decided to set out on foot. The disappearance of the Junkers and its passengers prompted one of the best-known searches in the history of Canadian aviation. (9)

A search party, consisting of Ted Cressy, Bill Joerss and Robert I. Van der Byl flew in CF-ALX to Thudate Lake in November, but with the freeze-up setting in fast, they had to abandon the search Joerss barely made it out with the empty float-equipped plane.

Joerss' take-off was rather more than dicey. They broke the ice for about 200 feet (60 m), after which it became too thick to break. Bill decided he had enough room to jump the machine out of the water onto the ice, and that the ice was smooth enough for him to keep going until he reached flying speed. He did just that. (l0)

Cressy and Van der Byl, after a perilous journey, got back to civilization on foot.

Meanwhile, the Burke party was making painfully slow progress toward Wolf Lake. Their food supply ran out and they were starving. On November 15, Kading shot a caribou, but it was too late for Burke. He was too weak to eat and died five days later. Not until November 24th was CF-AMX spotted. It was December 6th when the two survivors were picked up. Burke's body was taken to Atlin for burial.

The recovery of CF-AMX was not easy. During the first attempt in February, 1931, the plane had an engine failure and was left along Driftwood River, just north of Bulkley House, 190 km northwest of Ft. St. James. During the summer, Ted Cressy, Bill McCluskey and Len Fraser recovered the plane and repaired it. Bill and Ted were flying it to Vancouver when they ran out of fuel and put the plane down next to the CNR line, near Boston Bar, bending the airframe in the process. Ted Cressy, in a letter written in 1983, remembers McCluskey:

Jorsse [sic] and I had been in that lake [McConnell] several times and found you had to climb and get as much height as possible then dive to get speed to turn down lake to get out the low side, but poor Bill would hold off until the last minute. That's what killed him at Gun Lake in a Boeing Boat. I crashed with him in the Junkers F13 CF.AMX on the Rail track at Boston Bar, in the Fraser Valley. That was LUCKEY. [sic] (11)

In 1933, Charles Elliot of Pacific Airways purchased CF-AMX from the Air-Land Manufacturing Co. for use in the Cariboo and Burns Lake areas. She was still flying in 1935 for Pacific Airways based in Stewart. B.C. CF-AMX was in use until 1936 and sold for scrap in l938.

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Junkers F.13 CF-ALX -  Date and Location unknown
Junkers F.13 CF-ALX - Date and Location unknown
Photo courtesy of Fraser-Fort George Regional Museum

  1. McCluskey,W. R.: Report of Accident to Junkers CF-ALX, 1933

  2. THE PRINCE GEORGE CITIZEN, June19, 1930, page 9

  3. THE PRINCE GEORGE CITIZEN, June5, 1930, page 1

  4. THE PRINCE GEORGE CITIZEN, June19, 1930, page 1 & 9

  5. McCallum, Denise: City of Prince George, Junkers F13 Airplane, Fraser-Fort George Regional Museum, Prince George, B.C., 1986, page 4

  6. ibid, page 5


  8. Olson, K. D.; Junkers F-13, CF-ALX -Recovery by W.C.A.M., W.C.A.M. Aviation Review, September 1981, page 7


  10. Corley-Smith, Peter: Bush Flying to Blind Flying, 1930 - 1940, Sono Nis Press, Victoria, 1993, page 59

  11. Cressy, T. H.: Letter re: Junkers F.13 CF-ALX, 1983.


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