When an ex-Herb Farmer from Motueka with a love of planes, hears about a famous NZ 1936 Beechcraft Staggerwing war hero aircraft that is destined for the scrap heap, he knows he needs to save her and return her to her former glory. But can he do the restoration he dreams of (and this heroic plane deserves) before he runs out of money?
ZK-AEU is one of New Zealand’s most historic aircraft.
In 1936 ZK-AEU, a Staggerwing C17, was purchased directly from the Beechcraft factory in the USA, by the Auckland Aero Club in association with the St. John Ambulance Association.
It was one of the first aircraft in New Zealand to be set up as a dedicated air ambulance, and it was used to transport patients for urgent medical help including those with Polio, on either side of WWII.
ZK-AEU first flew in NZ in the second week of May 1937 and was soon breaking speed records around the country while being used for charter and air ambulance duties.
The Staggerwing was the equivalent of the modern ‘Lear Jet’ and at the time of its arrival in Auckland it was New Zealand's fastest aircraft with a cruise speed of about 165 mph.
In 1939 the NZ Government compulsorily bought all civilian aircraft, to be used for the war effort. The fastest plane in New Zealand was taken from the Auckland Aero Club on the 21 September and ZK-AEU became NZ573 of the No. 1 Transport Squadron.
The Staggerwing was sold back to the Auckland Aero Club by the RNZAF on 24 May 1946 and it rejoined the civil register. The Auckland Aero Club continued to use her for air ambulance work, charters and training over the following 8 years, until April 1954 when it was sold to Colin Kelman from Julia Creek, North Queensland to be used as transport on a farming station.
Many years later in 1967 after it crashed on takeoff from Cooktown airport, and was trucked to Geelong, the Staggerwing went into storage and hasn't flown since.
In 1969, Qantas Captain Bert Smithwell in Sydney found out about the wreckage and couldn’t bear to see it just ‘disappear’, so purchased her as a rebuild project. Unfortunately he was unable to complete the project and the aircraft sat in 1000 pieces under his house until he passed away in 2019.
Restoring AEU: Documentary
Release date: TBC
Director: Joe Murdie
Producer: Erin Murdie
Production co-ordinator: Anna McConville
Cinematographer: Joe Murdie
Editor: Joe Murdie
Sound recording and mix: Danny Fairley