BOING’S FIRST 2 PLANES HIDDEN IN AUCKLAND

The first two planes Boeing built were prototypes named Bluebill and Mallard. They became a common sight in the skies around Auckland and it is claimed they are buried in a tunnel under North Head on the city’s North Shore.

Bluebill

On June 15, 1916, William E. Boeing (who died in 1956) flew his two seated, single engine float plane Bluebill, above Lake Union in Seattle, USA. He had helped to design and construct the little aircraft in the Pacific Aero Club’s hanger at the foot of the lake. It was the first plane to be built by what was to become the huge Boeing Company. Another successful flight in the little plane was undertaken two weeks later. In November that year, a second plane, also named after a duck, this one, the Mallard was flown from the same location. Both aircraft proved to be stable and airworthy and robust enough to undertake routine flights.

FIRST AIRCRAFT

In 1915, after he learnt to fly in Los Angeles, William Boeing founded Pacific Aero Products which included the Pacific Aero Club. He purchased a Martin seaplane and built the Aero Club hangar for it. This seaplane was manufactured by the Martin Company which had been established in 1912 by Glenn Martin in Santa Ana, California.  It was the first aircraft company in the USA to produce planes commercially. When the USA entered into World War I, Pacific Aero Products were given a Navy contract for a new float plane called the Model C. This is when the company changed its name to the Boeing Airplane Company (later to become simply the Boeing Company)

SHIFT TO NEW ZEALAND

Just 15 years after Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first recorded powered flight in history, New Zealand aviation fans Vivian and Leo Walsh set up a syndicate and paid 750 pounds to import a British kitset biplane. The brothers worked with their sisters and took 6 months to figure out how to put the Howard Wright Biplane together. They called their flying machine Manurewa 1 and flew it over Papakura, Auckland. The flight on the 5th February 1911 was the first powered flight in New Zealand. It was also Leo Walsh’s 30th birthday. Four days later, a second flight rose over 6o feet off the ground and travelled 400 yards. With no brakes and a short space to land, the plane took some controlling when landing. It made a number of successful flights before a member of their syndicate crashed the plane into a fence. It ended up somewhat mangled and was deemed beyond repair.

Manurewa (NZ History)

In1914, undeterred by their earlier mishap, the brothers designed and built their own flying boat modelled on an American Curtiss design. It successfully took to the skies on New Year’s Day 1915. By this time, they had set up the New Zealand Flying School at Mission Bay to train pilots for the First World War. At the end of the war, the brothers purchased Bluebill and Mallard from Boeing. The two planes arrived on the Niagara on the 12th October 1918. The quaint little planes quickly became familiar sights in the skies over Auckland and the immediate region while being used for pilot training and for scenic flights. It must have been a major thrill for the passengers as they skimmed across the waters of Auckland harbour in an open cockpit while being showered in oil splatters from the noisy little engine. Bluebill also introduced New Zealand’s first airmail service when it made a 170km flight from Auckland to Dargaville in December 1919 with a small bag of letters. On the 9th May 1921, the brothers inaugurated a regular flight service between Auckland and Whangarei. It lasted only a short time due to lack of patronage.

SEARCH FOR THE AIRCRAFT

By 1921, the two trailblazing planes had become obsolete due to advances in aircraft technology and were withdrawn from service. To this day, it remains a mystery as to their fate. Rumours have circulated for a hundred years that they have been stored in tunnels under North Head on Auckland’s North Shore but extensive searches over the years have come up with nothing. I once lived at the base of North Head and locals considered the story of the two aircraft being hidden under the mound as fantasy. Be that as it may, searches are still periodically undertaken to find them. With search technology rapidly becoming more sophisticated, I feel the day will come when the planes are discovered somewhere in the Auckland region. It would be a windfall for the successful hunter as I’m sure the world’s largest aircraft manufacturer would pay a tidy sum to take back the first two planes they ever built. (It seems strange to me that the company should sell its two successful prototype aircraft in the first place!)

If you found this blog interesting, please let me know.

Ceidrik Heward

Comments

  1. Interesting blog post, mate 😀
    It’s a story that will not die – unlike my partner, Mr Earnshaw.

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