Dance of the Flying Boats

Dance of the Flying Boats

MOTAT’s magnificent flying boats are on the move! A huge team of employees, volunteers and contractors spent days in the museum’s Aviation Display Hall bringing the newly painted Sunderland indoors, and moving the Solent ‘Aranui’ outside for further restoration works and painting.

The long-term objective is to see the Sunderland and the Solent housed together under the same roof in the museum’s Aviation Display Hall. This vision is well on its way to being achieved with the Sunderland’s move into the hall.  MOTAT chief executive Michael Frawley says it’s a significant moment for the Museum “The Sunderland was donated to MOTAT in 1967 but this is the first time in 50 years we’ve been able to house her inside so it’s a very special day for MOTAT and those connected with the plane.”

A rare treasure, the Sunderland is one of only four remaining examples in the world retaining its original military configuration. Earlier this year MOTAT completed the enormous undertaking of restoring and repainting the exterior of the aircraft. This is a job that was only possible with the tireless efforts of employees, volunteers, and contractors.

MOTAT is fortunate to be supported by a skilled team who dedicate their time, knowledge and expertise to the museum’s aviation collection.  “Seeing the Sunderland being restored and moved indoors is a tribute to everyone who has worked on this aircraft over many years,” says MOTAT Senior Workshop Engineer and long-term volunteer Norm McKelvey. Norm is a retired TEAL and Air New Zealand engineer who has been closely involved with the restoration of the flying boats and many other aircraft at the Museum. 

The next step in the Sunderland’s restoration is the repair of its internal lighting, the refurbishment of the gun turrets and cleaning the interior. To complete to entire project, the Museum needs to raise $120,000.

This Sunday, 17 September is a special aviation Live Day where MOTAT visitors can be amongst the first to view the Sunderland with its striking new paintwork in the Aviation Display Hall. The Grumman Avenger Bomber will be operating its hydraulic wings while tours, talks and demonstrations will bring the stories behind the world-class aviation collection to life.

MOTAT’s legendary Solent flying boat ‘Aranui’ is scheduled for exterior restoration work and has been temporarily moved outside to be protectively wrapped so that this work can be undertaken.

These flying boats are rare artefacts from an era of aviation which pioneered air travel between Australia and New Zealand. Each aircraft has its own unique history, and MOTAT is delighted to share their stories with the public.

Moving the Sunderland inside this week is a remarkable achievement and marks another important milestone for MOTAT.


Further Information:

Historical Photo Citation: Mannering and Associates, n.d., [RNZAF Sunderland], 08/117/1116

Video Footage Available on request

Both vessels are products of the Short Brothers and Harland Limited, in Belfast, Ireland. The Sunderland was built in 1945, followed by the Solent in 1949.

The Sunderland has a rich history beginning with service in British Royal Airforce; it was then loaned to the British Overseas Airways Corporation for training crew from 1946 to 1948, followed by serving the Royal New Zealand Airforce (RNZAF) with the 5 Squadron at Laucala Bay, Fiji, and Maritime search and Reconnaissance Unit at Hobsonville. The Sunderlands were eventually superseded by new technology with the Lockheed Orions. Following the aircraft’s retirement in 1966 MOTAT was gifted the Sunderland NZ4115 in 1967.

Considered the most romantic air travel of its time, the TEAL Solent Commercial Flying boat operated as a long-range, luxury passenger service in the Tasman and South Pacific between 1949 and 1954. Thereafter, it operated exclusively in the South Pacific servicing the ‘Coral Route.’ Today, the Solent ZK-AMO ‘Aranui,’ is the sole remaining Short Solent Mk 4 in the world, and represents a glamorous era in New Zealand aviation history, making it a highly significant artefact in the collection.

The Solent Flying boat ‘Aranui’ retired in 1960, and was donated and relocated to MOTAT in 1966. The Solent Preservation Society (SPS) restored the aircraft in the 1980’s and contributed funds to the first Aviation Display Hall to house the Solent. More recently, a new conservation programme has been developed with input from the International Conservation Services (ICS) with ongoing interior and exterior works planned. Thanks to a generous donation from Air New Zealand restoration works on the interior of the Solent are in the process of being carried out.

Aviation Display Hall Location: MOTAT – Meola Road, Western Springs, Auckland

Aviation Live Day: Sunday 17 September, 10am to 5pm

Normal MOTAT admission fees apply


  • MOTAT's Sunderland about to be towed into th Aviation Display Hall

  • The restored exterior of the Sunderland Flying Boat at MOTAT

  • Mannering and Associates, n.d., [RNZAF Sunderland], 08-117-1116

  • The Sunderland Flying Boat about to move indoors at the MOTAT Aviation Display Hall

For further information, photos, media passes or interviews, please contact:

Vanessa Hefer
Communications Advisor, MOTAT
Phone: (09) 845 3703, Mobile: (021) 340 518