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.


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)


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.


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


  1. Interesting blog post, mate 😀

    • allan White says

      Hi, I remember being told in the late 60s or 70s of a guy that accessed the tunnels as we all did being boys in devonport at that time . This bloke (and his name escapes me) claimed to have climbed into what he was certain was the fuselage of an old air plane ,he sat in it and also said the walls were lined with artillary shells and all manner of military hardware. I believe there is all sorts stashed in these vast tunnels. My father was an Army Captain at Fort Cautley and we lived at Narrow Neck by the beach. One day I came into our living room to find a chart on the dining room table,Dad wasnt in the room so I had a good look over this chart . it was all about the tunnels and installations from North head up to Milford and Whangaparoa.He wasnt overly happy to find me gazing at this chart and rolled it up. He warned me not to venture into these tunnels because of holes and rusted old ladders. So of course we made a point of going where ever we could, we used to come up in someones veggy garden through a hatch right in the middle of the garden itself ,have a look to see if any one was around and run out through the side of the house and back to the street

      • Thanks for the interesting information. When researching this blog i wasn’t able to find any information on the tunnels that are claimed to be under North head. Your exploits indicate there really are hidden tunnels there.

      • Thanks for the interesting information. When researching this blog i wasn’t able to find any information on the tunnels that are claimed to be under North head. Your exploits indicate there really are hidden tunnels there.

      • paul carnahan says

        If I recall the bloke who made the claim was a MR Tony Hall lived at the bottom of shaol bay rd Devonport.

        My Father along with MR R Mcrae and MR P Titchener(wrote history of Devonport) spent many months years researching North Head for the missing planes and achieved access to the Chippie Shop at Torpedo Bay and cut a hole in the wall all behind was just rock.
        Think it was around early 1970s they spoke to Major Salt just before his death and asked him about the planes. And yes he admitted they burnt due to being a fire risk. Major Salt was in charge of North Head .

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

  3. Don Anderson says

    I spoke to my Great Uncle Harry Anderson, who was the RSM at Narrow Neck, about the planes.

    Harry said Major Salt burnt them on the beach, so sadly that’s what happened to them.

    While tunnels may have been sealed. I can tell you that if Harry said the planes aren’t in them, they aren’t in them.

    My Great Grandfather, also took fuel out to George Bolt at Pouto, when he did the mail run in one of the planes from Auckland to Dargaville.

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