Since CANAV published The Leslie Corness Propliner Collection in 2005, I continue to be impressed by the richness of the Corness photo collection. If you have the book, you know how aviation was a Corness family hobby. The three boys all were keen on everything to do with aviation, and their parents encouraged them. Their father taught them the basic of camera and dark room.
It would take more than one book to cover Leslie’s great collection. I thought it was time to put a few more of his wonderful shots out there for you to enjoy. And … while you’re doing so, notice some of the qualities of Leslie’s unpretentious style when he was behind the lens. For instance, he was far more of a “content” man than a “form” man. Instead of obsessively going for the perfect “set-up” photo, he tended to shoot just what he saw before him. Bang – shot taken, scene captured forever, warts and all.
These days there’s a lot of emphasis on “form”, on “set-up” potential, on controlling what’s there, rather than letting it simply be. With all the current Vivian Maier hoopla, you’d think she discovered everything about content vs form. Well, at least that’s what those promoting her stuff and making millions from it would have you believe. But those like Vivian who shoot creatively (vs trying to manage everything) have always been around. In my case, back in the Fifties I got tangled up with a crowd of young fellows shooting airplanes who mainly were “form” minded: set up your photo very deliberately, wait for the right sun, avoid a messy or busy background, wait for any people to clear out of the picture, don’t shoot on cloudy days, get that “pristine” shot. So that’s what we did. It took years to finally learn learn to appreciate the vibrancy and spontaneity of really meaningful aviation photography. Leslie Corness could have taught us that in one day of tutoring out at Edmonton Airport.
Today, there still is a preponderance of anal-type “form” picture takers. However, there are many more, also, who get the big picture. Leading the way in this part of the country are the likes of Gustavo Corujo. He can take a tightly scripted “form” oriented photo as well as the next shooter but, more typically, he’s getting lovely tight-in shots as well as the wide angle stuff, lots of people-and-airplanes scenes, etc. One thing for sure, he’s having a ton more fun than those who are slaves to the “set-up” shot.
Here are a few more of Leslie Corness’ magnificent photos taken (probably all) in Edmonton. In his days Edmonton already was known in the worldwide press as the “Canada’s Aviation Gateway to the North”. What an understatement that household phrase turned out to be. Anything flying north or south in the mid-continent generally had to flight plan through Edmonton. The Corness boys were waiting for whatever would show up. This selection dates to the late 1930s into the 1950s. Click on the pictures to see them full screen. See what you think.
There usually was a Fairchild 71 or an 82 any day around Edmonton from the late 1920s into the early 1960s. This lovely period view by Leslie features CPA’s famous “82” CF-AXQ getting some daily servicing. Built in 1939 for Mackenzie Air Services of Edmonton, it migrated to CPA with that company’s takeover in the early 1940s of a host of smaller northern operators. In 1946 “AXQ” was acquired by Waite Fisheries of Ile-a-la-Crosse, Saskatchewan. When the pilot got into deteriorating weather on January 28, 1947, his windscreen iced up so badly that he couldn’t see properly on landing, and crashed near home base. In our junior days of shooting at Malton in the 1950s we’d have been happy with the lighting here, but would likely have passed on even taking a shot “for the record” due to the gas drum, tie–down ropes, engine cover, open cockpit door , ladder in the background and, horror of horrors, that fellow standing there. How pitiful, eh, to be missing out on such fundamentals of a true aviation scene.
Besides frequent and ever-exciting visitors, Edmonton was home to dozens of ordinary bushplanes that plied the Mackenzie River Valley down to the Arctic coast. The Curtiss Robin was a typical hard working northern workhorse. CF-AHH was first registered in Canada in 1929. It served various Alberta owners into 1946, when it migrated to Hudson, Ontario to fly with Starratt Airways. “AHH” last was heard of with an Air Cadet squadron in Winnipeg in 1950. Leslie caught it in this ideal view, heading out from Edmonton on skis (tail draggers tend to look especially nice in a “rear ¾” view). This is a typical shot by Leslie, where the day was cloudy. The result was nice even lighting with no harsh/distracting shadows. One of the truly delightful sources of information about any such early US-certified aircraft is the magnificent 9-volume set “US Civil Aircraft Series” by the inimitable Joseph P. Juptner. Fans everywhere have been leaning on Juptner for “the good gen” since his series first appeared in 1966. Any serious fan needs these books.
Built in Delaware, the renowned Bellancas were at home in Edmonton for decades, especially when Commercial Airways was running its famous fleet of big red bush planes. There also usually was some transient Bellanca for the Corness boys to photograph and, at war’s end, Northwest Industries had a decent go at manufacturing a revitalized Bellanca Skyrocket. Here, CH-400 Skyrocket NC-11661 (420-hp PW Wasp engine) sits at Edmonton awaiting departure likely on the Alaska route. This would be no earlier than 1940, the year CF-BQM (in the background) came to Canada. NC-11661 had been in the news in the Kingston, Jamaica “Gleaner” of January 18, 1939. The report that day identified it as being a luxurious plane “formerly of Palm Beach Air Service”, piloted by Capt. H. deB Tupper, being on wheels and having a yellow paint scheme. To my knowledge, to date no detailed history of NC-11661 has arisen from the dusty files. It would be nice to know a bit about it.
A plane sitting in the corner of a hangar at Edmonton was as inviting to Leslie as if it were outside in the sun. Bellanca CH-300 NC258M (300 hp Wright engine) also was passing through when he shot it circa 1940.
This unique, aluminum-hulled Keystone-Loening K-84 “Commuter” turned up one day in Edmonton. A luxurious amphibian using a 300-hp Wright engine, the Commuter (first flight 1929) was popular with sport aviators and corporations. NC374V today resides with the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum in Anchorage.
One of the most modern aircraft of the early 1930s was the speedy, 8-passenger Northrop Delta, first flown in 1933. Accidents plagued the Delta, however, so it did not realize its potential. Several were manufactured in Canada by Canadian Vickers for the RCAF (the Delta was the RCAF’s first all-metal aircraft). Edmonton occasionally was a refuelling spot for a long-range Northrop. Shown is NC13777. Delta No.28, it was powered by a 710-hp Wright. This example is believed be in storage somewhere around Kansas City, Missouri.
In this case Leslie was focusing on Northrop Gamma 2H NC2111. Juptner observes: “More than anything else the Northrop Gamma 2D was a dramatic exercise in highly advanced all-metal construction, in refined aerodynamics, experiments in long distance cargo-hauling by air, and research into over-weather flying.” Some 61 Gammas were turned out in the 1930s, 49 for export to the Chinese military. In the US they earned headlines in air racing (e.g. Los Angeles to New York City non-stop in 13 hours 26 minutes), long distance flight, and one supported the Lincoln Ellsworth Antarctic expedition of 1932. The latter Gamma resides in the Smithsonian collection. NC2111 became famous when Russell Thaw flew it in the 1935 Bendix Trophy race from Los Angeles to Cleveland. We can’t say what NC2111 was doing in Edmonton, but there well could be a report of it somewhere in the Edmonton Journal in the late 1930s.
This magnificent Ford Trimotor NC8419 came though Edmonton one day, perhaps on delivery from “The Lower 48” to Alaska’s Star Airlines. The Alaska State Archives has a photo of it on skis with Star in 1937. It might have shown up in Edmonton any time up to 1942, when Star became Alaska Star Airlines. Leslie shot it happily as he saw it — step ladder and all. Note that the light is long, so it’s an early or a late-in-the-day shot (the fuss budgets preferred mid-day lighting). NC8419 was Ford 5-AT-C No.58 built in 1929 for Northwest Airlines of Minneapolis. Research points to a strange story about it. The original plane crashed in 1959 — years after Leslie saw it. By then it was doing forestry work and went down during fire operations. The data plate was salvaged and used to legitimize the restoration of today’s N8419, which is a combination of parts from several Ford wrecks. “New” N8419 today flies with the Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum in Michigan.
Another incredible flying machine passing through Edmonton to Leslie’s delight was this 10-passenger Stinson SM-6000-B powered by three 215-hp Lycomings. Resplendent in Wien Alaska Airlines markings, it also likely was on a delivery flight in the late 1930s. Too bad, but there was no colour film commonly available at this time. What were the Stinson’s colours? Maybe that brilliant orange we saw on Wien’s later Norsemans?
Ditto for Stinson “A” NC-15109 shown in Pollack Airlines colours at Edmonton – another sight to get the local “hangar rats” fired up. Flown in 1934, this type was the last and the fastest Stinson trimotor. Powered by 260-hp Lycomings and with retractable undercarriage, it cruised at 160 mph, so competed reasonably well with the Boeing 247 and Douglas DC-2. As you can see, this is more of a set-up shot – airplane in the clear, ideal side lighting, registration and company markings visible, etc.
A newly built Northwest Industries Bellanca 31-55 Senior Skyrocket (600 hp PW R-1340) at Edmonton circa 1947. Prototype CF-DCH had flown on February 28, 1946, but only 13 examples were manufactured. The “31-55” had little hope of competing against cheap war surplus Norsemans, then the Beaver came along to seal its fate. This is a really typical Corness photo, capturing as it does some interesting features, especially the nifty Shell fuel truck.
In all my research and sleuthing I never before have seen a photo of the NWI Skyrocket “production line”. One day Leslie poked his nose in the NWI hangar and grabbed this very telling shot of three Skyrockets under way. Nearest is CF-DCE.
Another new type for Leslie’s list in the late 1940s was this Fairchild Husky. Like the NWI Skyrocket, the Husky was doomed by cheap Norsemans and the flashy new Beaver. Air Transport in Canada provides a reasonable history of the Husky or Skyrocket in Canada, but also see Canadian Aircraft since 1909 by the great K.M. “Ken” Molson
In 1957-58 NWI decided to represent the Edgar Percival company of the UK with its E.P.9 “Prospector” utility plane. Specially registered in Canada, it made sales tours and many a demo/promo flight, but the E.P.9 didn’t have a prayer of succeeding — less than the Husky or Skyrocket. No Canadian operator was likely to invest in such a type, when locally made and well supported Beaver, Otter and Norseman were commanding the market. CF-NWI is preserved in the Reynolds Alberta Museum at Wetaskiwin, Alberta.
Many interesting light twins were always coming and going at Edmonton. Typical was the Barkley-Grow, a handful of which came to Canada in 1940, then had long, useful careers. Leslie took many lovely Barkley-Grow photos in b/w and colour at Edmonton, but this view he shot at Vancouver, just as CF-BQM was about to be launched.Look at all the nifty content in this great action photo. CF-BQM served many operators beginning with Mackenzie Air Service. It ended as a fish hauler with Pete Lazarenko’s Winnipeg-based Northland Airlines, flying at least into 1964. It resides today with the Aero Space Museum of Calgary.
This Boeing 247 served the Alberta oil industry for decades, until finally donated to Canada’s national aeronautical collection in Ottawa. Based in Calgary with California Standard Oil (later Chevron Oil), Leslie often saw it in Edmonton. Alberta oil companies also operated the Lockheed 12, Lockheed 18 and DC-3 in the 1950s-60s.
The Cessna T-50 Crane was as common around Edmonton in the early postwar years as the Anson. These fine little twins found a hundred and one uses. Typical was Crane CF-BXX, which Leslie shot from a nice vantage point. It must have been beside a hangar from which he could frame his shot from a roof or window. “BXX” had been RCAF 1670 from 1941-46. Then, the Hoover Machine Co. of Edmonton bought it from War Assets Disposal Corp., probably for just a few hundred dollars. Within a year, however, “BXX” was sold to a buyer in Montana. In the second Crane scene, Leslie captured an Associated Airlines’ plane in the midst of some serious maintenance. Such raw scenes always interested him – talk about a “non-set-up” shot, eh. Hope you have enjoyed these fantastic Corness photos. I’ll try to add a few more in a week or two. Cheers … Larry
In case you still don’t have your copy of The Leslie Corness Propliner Collection, you can order today at 1/2 price — $20.00 vs $40.00. All in for Canada (post and tax) $33.60, USA & overseas $36.00. Let me know if you get interested. Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Wilf White Propliner Collection is also at this same great price of $20.00. Both books all in for Canada $57.75, USA & overseas $82.00 … Larry