Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, New York: A Living Aviation Museum

Ever wonder what the colorful barnstorming days of early aviation were like? You can find out firsthand by taking a trip to the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome near Rhinebeck, New York.

Nestled in the Hudson River Valley in the enchanting Catskills of southeastern New York, the Aerodrome is a living aviation museum featuring about 50 antique airplanes. The planes are either original aircraft or meticulously accurate replicas outfitted with original engines.

Just hearing the names of these planes — Sopwith Camel, Fokker, Curtiss Jenny and Avro, to name a few--will make an airplane nut swoon. These and many other vintage aircraft dating from 1900 to 1940 bring the sights, sounds and scents of this era roaring back to life. They're fantastic!

The din of the engines… the odor of burnt castor oil… the sight of the Black Baron aloft in his tri-wing 1917 Fokker DR-1… I guarantee your adrenaline will flow full-tilt. I get excited just writing about it!

Each Sunday from mid-June through mid-October, the Aerodrome holds an air show featuring World War I and barnstorming aircraft. One of the highlights of the show is a reenactment of an air battle between Allied and German planes.

It's awesome to see the "Black Baron of Rhinebeck" pilot his little tri-wing Fokker DR-1, the plane most associated with Germany's notorious Red Baron. The show includes a zany melodrama in which the daring Sir Percy Goodfellow does battle with the evil Black Baron for the hand of lovely Trudy Truelove. It's great fun.

The Aerodrome was founded by Cole Palen, an aviation enthusiast whose life revolved around collecting, restoring and flying antique airplanes. He often dreamed of owning and operating his own airfield where vintage aircraft could be flown.

In 1951, Cole bought six World War I aircraft from an airport that was shutting down. It was a 200-mile round-trip to the airport, and he made the drive nine times to move the planes and paraphernalia.
Cole's dream took wing in

1959, when he bought an old farm. He cleared a runway and built makeshift hangars … the Aerodrome was born!

Today, Cole's spirit lives on in weekly air shows. In addition to the Sunday shows, a Saturday show chronicles the first 3 decades of flight. Before and after the weekend air shows, you can relive those early barnstorming days by actually taking a 15-minute ride in a 1929 open-cockpit biplane--a New Standard D-25. (The cost is $30.)

I'd wanted to do this for 25 years but never got around to it. When I finally took the flight recently, I loved it!

You start by donning leather headgear and goggles, just like the old days. The takeoff and landing were so gentle, I couldn't even feel the wheels leave or touch the ground.

Flying with an open cockpit was not as noisy as I'd expected--quite frankly, I've heard wedding bands make more noise!

The best part is that you're out in the fresh air. The plane flies slowly over the Hudson Valley at low altitude, giving you a great view of the countryside. What an experience!

If You Visit… Rhinebeck is on U.S. Highway 9, about 15 miles north of Poughkeepsie. The Aerodrome, which includes four large buildings with about 30 vintage airplanes, is just northeast of Rhinebeck. For details call 1-845/752-3200.

It's open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from May 15 through Oct. 31. Weekday admission is $5 for adults and $2 for children ages 6-10. Weekend air shows run from 2:30 to 4 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children.

After watching the air show and viewing the vintage airplanes on display inside the airfield's buildings, consider grabbing a bite to eat at Foster's Coach House Tavern in Rhinebeck. There are plenty of inns and bed-and-breakfasts in the area.

For more information, call the Rhinebeck Chamber of Commerce at 1-845-876-4778.

More to See

Springwood, Franklin D. Roosevelt's birthplace, and one of the Vanderbilt mansions are located in Hyde Park, between Rhinebeck and Poughkeepsie… the U.S. Military Academy in West Point is about 1 hour farther south… and Locust Grove, the home of telegraph and Morse code inventor Samuel Morse, is in Poughkeepsie. It houses Morse's original telegraph.

There are many more things to see in this area; for information call 1-800-232-4782.

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