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A documentary following the restoration of ZK-AEU; a 1936 Beechcraft Staggerwing C17 known for being Auckland's first Air Ambulance, and at the time, New Zealand's fastest aircraft.


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.



Don Grant is an ex herb farmer turned cracker manufacturer who first saw a Beechcraft Staggerwing at an airshow in Westport in 2001. From that moment on he was somewhat obsessed with these impressive aircraft, and dreamt of one day owning one for himself. 

In 2016 he discovered that New Zealand had in fact once had a brand new Staggerwing and he knew that he had to find what happened to it.  It took three years to track down the owner and convince Bert's family to sell him ZK-AEU... or more accurately, the 1000 odd parts of a crashed Staggerwing that had been sitting under Bert's house in Sydney for the past 50 years. 


Restoring AEU is a featurette documentary (approx. 30 minutes), currently in production, that follows the restoration and eventual flying of ZK-AEU. This monumental restoration project requires locating and repairing of gauges from the 1930's, sourcing carpet and wall lining in vintage colours only photographed in Black and White, rebuilding the 4 wings by hand using tiny pieces of spruce and nails, rebuilding a huge radial engine, not to mention putting it all together, learning to fly it and the huge cost to do all of the above! 

Can Don even find all the parts he needs?

What will happen when he tries to taker her for her first flight?

And can he do it all before he runs out of money?! 




Photo 14-04-22, 1 47 59 PM.jpg


Co-Producer - Don Grant

Co-Producer - Erin Murdie

Director / DP - Joe Murdie

Cam Assist - Emily Menzies

Production Co-ordinator - Anna McConville

Sound Recordist - Danny Fairley 

Editing - Joe Murdie & Ned Brannigan

Colourist - TBC

Music/Mastering - Danny Fairley

The production team behind this project are lead by Film Maker Joe Murdie and Producer Erin Murdie. Founders of The Film Crew Ltd and OurFilm.Group, Joe and Erin have been producing film and commercial content for several years. 


Credited titles across the team can be found at 



Execution: December '21

Development / Pre Production: February ‘22

Principle Photography: March ‘22 - September ‘23

Post Production: November ‘23 - January ‘24

Delivery: April ‘24


Style: Observational mode documentary short w/ interview narrative

Aspect ratio: 2:1


Cameras: RED Digital Cinema



We are currently seeking platform commitment and project funding for this film. If you are interested in being involved or would like to chat further please get in touch.

Erin (64) 21 758 263

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