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OLD RHINEBECK AERODROME
A Living Museum of Antique Aviation

by Bob Brooke
 

"No problem, itíll fly," Cole Palen, founder of the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome near Poughkeepsie, New York, would say when faced with a mammoth aircraft restoration project. Palen was a dreamer, just like the Wright Brothers. To him, anything was possible. No task ever seemed too great.

The Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, a living museum of antique aviation, offers one of the largest collections of early aeroplanes in the world and regularly flies many of them in air shows each weekend from mid-June to mid-October. Itís then that the Aerodrome turns back the hands of time and relives the years of early aviation. In addition to the air shows, there are four museum buildings displaying aircraft form the Pioneer era, World War I and the Lindbergh/barnstorming era, the golden years of aviation. This was Palenís life dream and the result of his dedication to the preservation of early aviation.

As a child he developed an early fascination with aviation and loved building aeroplane models. His own first flight came when he was ten when he took a short hop in a New Standard biplane at the old Poughkeepsie Airport. From then on, he was hooked.

Upon returning from a stint in the U.S. Infantry at the end of World War II, Palen entered the Roosevelt Aviation School at Roosevelt Field, Long Island to train as a mechanic. He found it had a small museum of World War I aircraft and dreamed of one day owning his own airfield and flying the early aeroplanes.

In 1951 Roosevelt Field closed and the collection of World War I aircraft was put up for sale. Though the Smithsonian purchased three of them, Cole bid his life savings for the remainder. Soon he owned six vintage planes. It took nine 200-mile round trips to move the aircraft back to the Palen family home where he stored them in abandoned chicken coops.

Palen discovered a farm for sale near the village of Rhinebeck in 1959. He was able to purchase it using monies he had saved from the rental of some of his aircraft to a film company in California that was filming the World War I movie, "Lafayette Escadrille" starring Tab Hunter. Between that and savings from his employment at Texaco as a mechanic, he purchased the property by paying the back taxes owed on it. After clearing a runway and building temporary hangars from scrap materials, the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome was born.

Cole collected and restored aircraft spanning from the birth of aviation up to the start of World War II. Where early original aircraft didnít exist, he created accurate replicas powered by authentic engines.

The first air show took place in 1960 to an assembled audience of 25 people. These early shows led to a philosophy of not only showing the aircraft in their natural environment, but also providing a fun and an entertaining day out for the whole family. Itís from this idea that Palen developed a zany melodrama featuring the daring Sir Percy Goodfellow doing battle with the Evil Black Baron for the hand of the lovely Trudy TrueloveĖthe air show for which Rhinebeck has become famous.

Saturday shows chronicle the History of Flight with pioneer, World War I and Lindbergh era aircraft taking to the skies. When there are calm winds, the Aerodromeís 1909 Bleriot, the oldest flying aircraft in the country, takes to the air.

Sunday shows feature World War I and barnstorming aircraft, a dogfight between a Fokker Triplane and a Sopwith Camel, as well as the famous melodrama.

Pre-show activity includes a vintage fashion show with audience participation, an old-time automobile parade and early aviation engine run-ups. Visitors can experience the thrill of early aviation by taking an open-cockpit biplane ride in a 1929 New Standard. And barnstorming flights over the scenic Hudson Valley are available before and after the shows. Biplane rides are $40.00/person, with rides lasting 15 minutes from loading to unloading, weather permitting.

The Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome is located 100 miles north of New York City, directly east of Kingston on the east side of the Hudson River, 30 minutes from Poughkeepsie. The museum is open daily May 15 through October 31 from 10:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. Admission is $6.00. Weekend air show admission, including museum admission, is $12.00 for adults, $10 for seniors, $5.00 for children. For more information call (845) 752-3200 or E-mail info@oldrhinebeck.org.

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