- Are the first Boeing aircraft stored in North Head / Maungauika?
- Sir Peter Jackson gets involved
- Martin Butler’s investigation into the missing Boeing 1 aircraft
In 1916, the first Boeing planes (Boeing Model 1 AKA B & W Seaplane) were built in America and offered to the United States Navy. The US Navy didn’t buy them, and they were instead sold to the Walsh Brother’s Flying School in New Zealand. They were the first two aircraft ever built by Boeing and therefore have huge historical significance in the aviation industry.
The story of the lost Boeing aircraft and how they relate to North Head / Maungauika starts at the Walsh Brother’s Flying School—the first flying school in New Zealand. This school was formed in 1915 to train pilots for the British Royal Flying Corps. They started from a shed in Orakei but soon moved to Kohimarama/Mission Bay—training over 100 pilots including NZ fighter ace Keith Caldwell.
Are the first Boeing aircraft stored in North Head / Maungauika?
Nobody knows for sure, but anyone who finds them might get rich! Reportedly, Boeing are very keen to get these planes back into their possession and are prepared to pay the equivalent value of a brand new ‘Jumbo’ airliner. If true, this could equate to a reward in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Over the years, there have been many eyewitness accounts of these aircraft being stored in the tunnels under North Head / Maungauika.
Even George Bolt (New Zealand’s most famous early aviator) stated the first Boeing aircraft were sealed inside tunnels at North Head. He should know—he worked at the Walsh Brother’s Flying School at the time. On 25 June, 1919, he even set a New Zealand altitude record of 6,500 feet in the Boeing 1 and flew it as part of New Zealand’s first airmail postal service.
Sir Peter Jackson gets involved
Legendary Kiwi filmmaker Sir Peter Jackson actually bought one of the first Boeing aircraft engines from documentary-maker and North Head investigator John Earnshaw. Sir Peter has since been following the progress of the investigation into the tunnels under North Head / Maungauika. He even wrote some letters of support to local iwi and Auckland Council, urging them to investigate properly.
Martin Butler’s investigation into the missing Boeing 1 aircraft
The following is extracted with permission from Tunnel Vision and Martin Butler’s own research into North Head / Maungauika.
What sparks our interest and fires our imagination? As I scanned the New Zealand Herald on 8 May 1992 one headline in particular captured me. It read:
Government to probe secrets of North Head
The mysteries of North Head are to be unearthed. The Government has given approval for Department of Conservation staff to dig into the North Shore landmark’s mysterious past.
The investigation, announced yesterday by the Minister of Conservation, Mr Marshall, follows years of public speculation and rumour that North Head contains a secret labyrinth of defence tunnels and a buried ammunition dump.
Repeated denials by the Ministry of Defence have served only to fuel the intrigue.
Other more romantic talk suggests that two 1920s Boeing flying boats lie entombed in the Devonport headland, a strategic military post during both World Wars which is now a historic reserve managed by the Department of Conservation.
Mr Marshall said it was time to put an end to the conjecture by uncovering solid proof – one way or another. He had received a stream of inquiries from Devonport residents concerned by regular reports of hidden ammunition caches.
Their fears had persisted in spite of department research, which failed to turn up any evidence of munitions remaining on North Head since its closure as a military installation.
The planned work would involve excavating sites, and delving into archival files and records. ‘If any unknown tunnel or installation is discovered, work will cease immediately until explosive experts have checked the site,’ the Minister said. Searches would also be made for the remains of old aircraft.
‘Whether or not any tunnels, ammunition or long-lost aircraft are found, the research will contribute to a fuller understanding of the reserve and its history.’
Excavated sites would be restored to their original condition. The exploration would be carried out in conjunction with the Departments of Defence and Labour, and the North Shore City Council.
Mr Marshall yesterday met the Minister of Defence, Mr Cooper, to discuss the project. Defence chiefs are believed to have promised their full co-operation during the investigation which could take up to a year to complete.
The work will be led by Department of Conservation archaeologists and is expected to start before the end of next month.
A department official said the probe was intended as ‘the final word in a long saga’. ‘It is in response to community concerns about whether North Head is safe. We are not responding to any new evidence which indicates the presence of a munitions dump.’
The search would be systematic and orderly. The MP for North Shore, Mr Bruce Cliff, said nearby residents deserved to know if North Head contained live bombs and other munitions.
Reproduced with the permission of the New Zealand Herald.
Initially, my interest extended to visiting North Head to get a feel for where all this drama and intrigue was taking place. Over the next two years, the odd bit of news filtered through and finally culminated with a newspaper report that nothing of significance had been discovered. I found it difficult to accept that the first Boeing aircraft ever built had simply vanished without a trace. As a result, I resolved to conduct my own investigation.
And so it began – the tangled web. Where to start? Finding the answer would not be a simple task as there were only small fragmented pieces of information readily available. All I had was a resolve to follow the trail wherever it led and to carefully collate all the information until a reasonable explanation emerged. My quest would involve many hours spent in public libraries, film libraries, newspaper libraries and archive buildings, sifting through facts and raking over historical records.
These were the mundane aspects of my research. There were also many enjoyable times with my (then) small children on the hill itself, exploring existing tunnels – getting a feel for what must have been, or might have been. There was no pressure for this study. I would leave it for a year, then pick it up again. But it was always there in the background – they need to know.
However, I was soon to find a problem as too many pieces of the puzzle did not fit the official version of events. There was also an underlying theme to the stories about North Head that needed to be checked out, persistent stories of explosives and the spectre of a conspiracy at the highest levels. If true, the Boeing aircraft had become a curse to the conspirators as they stimulated unwanted public interest and focused attention on the real area of concern – North Head.
After more than 20 years I am finally in a position to prove or disprove this folklore tale that is Auckland city’s own story. Folklore indeed, because there are few people born in Auckland that have not heard about aircraft or explosives inside tunnels at North Head.
There have been many investigations, including a court case; but now there is new and compelling evidence that ‘forgotten tunnels’ and the first Boeing aircraft may actually exist. In order to relate what has been found in the minefield of information, this saga has been put together as a time-based portrayal of events. It is also the seemingly incredible statements from credible people that necessitate this story being told as a factual account, albeit with my conclusions and suppositions.
Clearly, the first Boeing aircraft are of historic aviation significance worldwide. In 1991 a TV documentary revealed that the Boeing Company would be likely to pay the equivalent cost of a new Boeing 747 jet should their first-ever aeroplanes be discovered. Therefore, with all the ingredients of a good treasure hunt in the making, mystery, danger and intrigue, this is the story of the search for the first Boeing aircraft.
Read the rest in Martin Butler’s book: Tunnel Vision.
Read more about the investigation into the lost Boeing aircraft through Gavin Grimmer’s research.
Recent statement from Martin Butler: “The reality is that I would have given up years ago on the first Boeing aircraft if the threat of deteriorating munitions was not present.”
View evidence for hidden tunnels and ammunition under North Head / Maungauika.