Don Fleming, public relations manager of ORA, describes the unique airport tucked into a wooded knoll. “The runway is a downhill slope, and planes can land going uphill; some of them don’t even have brakes. Wing runners come out to protect them from crosswinds. They are fabric and wood, so we only fly them on good days. They have no ailerons, but are controlled by a stick and the shifting of the pilot’s weight.” He adds that the Pusher was the first airplane to land on a ship, and that their model D has a tailhook for that purpose.
The Rhinebeck Aerodrome Museum Foundation operates as a volunteer-run, 501 (c) (3) non-profit corporation, offering weekly air shows during the season and maintaining Museum hangars for more than 50 years. When Cole Palen mustered out of the US Infantry after World War II, he spent his life savings on six World War I airplanes that were being sold off from the closure of Roosevelt Field on Long Island. He acquired a SPAD XIII, an Avro 504K, a Curtiss Jenny, a Standard J-l, an Aeromarine 39B and a Sopwith Snipe. His passion for collecting and restoring these antique planes was infectious, and soon he and his cronies were getting hold of other planes and even building reproductions of some.
Fleming suggests that Palen “didn’t have any idea what he was doing at the time,” but over the years created a premier facility where the preservation of aviation history is brought to life. The original air shows involved simple demonstrations, like dropping bags of lime into target tires or “ribbon-cutting,” all to the thrill of gathering crowds. Think of the “wing-walkers” in old filmstrips and accounts of “barnstorming,” where both ends of a barn were opened and the plane zoomed right through. “We don’t do that; flying under bridges and such things are not good practice.” Today demo pilots are specially trained to fly the still-airworthy planes. “Tail-dragger experience is what we look for,” says Fleming, indicating that the machines each have their own flying characteristics.
This Sunday, August 28, ORA will present a World War I Show with biplanes and triplanes engaged in dogfights above the peaceful countryside. Reenactments will take place on the ground, including a 1917 Renault tank moving around the field and World War I bagpipers performing. “We plan to fly all of our airworthy World War I airplanes. We even have a villain in our show that we call the Black Baron. The planes will be set up for special photos, including a cockpit viewing stand for the Sopwith Camel,” says Fleming. He encourages visitors to come out when the gates open at 10 a.m. to go through all the hangars on the hill, enjoy lunch at the concession stand and stay for the air shows running from 2 to 4 p.m. each day.
The Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome is located at 9 Norton Road between the villages of Rhinebeck and Red Hook. Admission is $20 for adults; $15 for teens age 13 to 17, active or retired military with ID and seniors; $5 for juniors age 6 to 12 and Scouts in uniform; kids age 5 and under get in free. For an even bigger thrill, take a biplane ride over the beautiful Hudson Valley for $75 per person. Call (845) 752-3200 or visit www.oldrhinebeck.org for further information.