"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
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
Trueloveóthe 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
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