Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Under the volcano

Another amazing coincidence! And a mystery...

Beleaguered Boeing is finally bringing their troublesome Dreamliner to New Zealand next month, Air New Zealand having ordered several and having had to be very patient as deliveries are currently 3 years behind schedule. Clearly, then, it's the ideal time to write up our visit last year to their assembly plant at Everton not far from Seattle (my Seattle story was published in the Herald on Sunday just a couple of days ago, but that's a piffling coincidence, I'm picky now). They told us on the tour there over that astonishingly huge building ("big enough to enclose the whole of Disneyland - and the carpark!" they boasted) that William Boeing's first two planes, built in 1916 by the man himself and his partner Conrad Westervelt, little biplanes with floats, were sold a couple of years later to New Zealand, which was mildly exciting to us at the time.

Doing a bit more research today, though, I've discovered that they were used by a flying school here in Auckland to train pilots, and on inaugural air mail deliveries within NZ. When the flying school closed down in 1924 the planes were put into storage - inside a tunnel in North Head, where I went last Friday to watch a yacht race. And there, apparently, they remain to this day, despite a number of attempts to locate them by both private people and Motat, the technology museum where the Baby works part-time, and where their new aviation hangar has just been opened, which the OH visited on Sunday, and where the planes would no doubt be displayed if they had been found.

As it is, however, their exact whereabouts are unknown, walled-up and concreted into an unidentifiable disused tunnel under this extinct volcano-turned-fort, the men who did the work having pretty much passed on by now, and the authorities being curiously unhelpful to those trying to solve the mystery. What a ripping yarn!

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