BOEING ONE is a priceless relic of aviation history. Correctly called B&W1 or Bluebill, it is the first airplane designed and build by William Edward Boeing, founder of Seattle's Boeing Company, the world's largest aerospace manufacturer. Boeing and his colleague Conrad Westerfelt designed and built their first two aircraft in 1916 at Lake Union, Seattle, Washington State. They named the two airplanes "Bluebill" and "Mallard" after waterfowl that inhabited the lake and because the aircraft were 'floatplanes', designed to take off and land on water.

 

In 1918, after they were rejected by the US Navy, Bluebill and Mallard were sold to the New Zealand Flying School and shipped to New Zealand on the freighter Niagra.

 

In 1924 when the N.Z. Flying School closed, a compelling body of evidence, including a letter written to the Boeing Company in 1959 by pioneer aviator George Bolt, points to the two Boeings having been taken to a military base at North Head, Devonport and placed in a vacant storage tunnel. When the officer in charge decided that the doped fabric and spruce airframes were a fire risk, he ordered the tunnel walled off, and there, the evidence suggests, they remain till this day. The stories of the sealed off underground military complex have since been supported by hundreds of first hand witnesses.

 

In 1979 an English cinematographer with an interest in aviation, who had emigrated to NZ in 1975 after a career in feature films that had taken him around the world, came across this story and   decided to see where it led... possibly to the location of Boeing One. And that, as they say, is when the trouble started. But his was not the first search. There have been a number of searches for the first Boeing. Each of these has been abandoned or otherwise terminated in curious circumstances.

 

The first search by George Bolt and Doug Patterson was inspired by the 1959 anniversary celebration of the first New Zealand Airmail (flown from Auckland to Dargaville in Bluebill, piloted by George Bolt in 1919). This search was abandoned in the early 1960s after an ex army officer set up a bogus newspaper article that reported that the Boeings had been burnt in 1925. 

A second search was mounted in the late 1960s at the inspiration of the Museum of Transport and Technology. This petered out in the early 1970s - incomplete.

A third search was initiated in the late 1970s by George Bolt’s son, Sir Richard Bolt, an Air Marshall in the Royal New Zealand Air Force then about to retire as Chief of Defence Staff. The Army conducted a superficial search at Torpedo Bay, North Head in 1980 and produced a report that posed as many questions as it answered. This search was abandoned in 1981 - incomplete.

The fourth search for Boeing One was commenced by the film maker John Earnshaw in the early 80s. In 1987 a partnership was formed between Earnshaw and the Government to facilitate a physical investigation at the North Head Historical Reserve. This search crashed and burned in 1989 following a fiasco of irrelevant reconnaissance reports, broken machinery, a lack of adequate support and logistics and the Army, which was tasked with the work, deliberately avoiding the specified search sites. Then, having stonewalled progress for four years the Government unilaterally dissolved the partnership and tried to expropriate Earnshaw’s documentary project. After that things went seriously downhill.

A fifth search was supposed to take place in early 1991, but it didn't. In December 1990 the Department of Conservation, having earlier informed Earnshaw that they were going to renew his license to investigate at North Head, reneged and, using their statutory control of the search site, engaged a student archaeologist to conduct a “new search”. A heads of Agreement was drawn up that excluded Earnshaw except for being able to film at the Department’s discretion. The search never took place.

A sixth search, allegedly another ‘partnership’ between Earnshaw and the Government, was scheduled for early 1992 after  the intervention of Wells McCurdy, husband of the US Ambassador to NZ and personal friend of the Boeing family. Rejecting input from Earnshaw, the Department of Conservation drew up an  agreement with overtly inadequate provisions and bullied Earnshaw into signing it by having him thrown off the search site for “filming without permission” (oddly enough, he didn’t have a camera with him at the time). The Department then immediately breached the terms of their own contract by conspiring with a rival film company to take over Earnshaw’s project. The sixth search was consequently grounded before it took off.

A seventh search was subsequently arranged unilaterally by the Department of Conservation and  meandered on for the next couple of years. This appeared to be more of a PR exercise than an actual attempt to address the mounting number of questions left unanswered by the abandonment of all the previous efforts to find the Boeing.

 

After 50 years of ‘searching’ none of the evidence compiled by George Bolt and Doug Patterson in 1959 and none of the search sites specified for the fourth search in 1987, identified after 8 years of meticulous research by Earnshaw, have ever been effectively and conclusively investigated. 

 

The job would appear to be a simple one: Investigate the evidence properly and honorably and put the matter conclusively to rest. Why then did influences within the Government spend the thick end of two decades turning a legitimate historical research project into a catastrophic farce of incompetent autocracy, malfeasance and egotism that perverted historical records and spawned a pointless controversy that fulminated into litigation and despotic score settling ?

 

The answers are investigated in Jon Smyth’s  The Hijack Of Boeing One….

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