October 1, 2011
By Julie Summers Walker
Photography by George A. Kounis
Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in New York’s Hudson River Valley redefines the word “old.” Or should we say “really old”? For in 2011, a World War II vintage aircraft, at more than 60 years old, is old, but a World War I aircraft? That’s really old.
And not only are these aircraft really old, but they are performing, active flying machines from a time when aviation was in its infancy. Here is one of the largest collections of early aeroplanes in the world. From a 1909 Blériot X1 to a Sopwith Camel, the aircraft at Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome are authentic and amazing. And, even more amazing, you can not only see a 1920s-era airshow, but also fly in a 1929 New Standard biplane.
Old Rhinebeck was created by the late Cole Palen, a Duchess County, New York, native. After serving in World War II, Palen entered the Roosevelt Aviation School on Long Island and became an aviation mechanic. In 1953, Roosevelt Field closed and the resident aircraft were sold at auction. Palen purchased six vintage aircraft, even though he had nowhere to keep them. After several years of storing them in abandoned chicken coops on his family farm, some of the aircraft were rented by a movie studio for the production of the 1958 film Lafayette Escadrille. Palen used the money he made to purchase a small farm, and Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome was born.
Palen held his first airshow in 1960 before a crowd of 25 people. Along with his wife, Rita, he began hosting shows each weekend from mid-June until mid-October. Although Palen died in 1993, early aviation airshows are still presented each weekend, and the museum now boasts more than 70 vintage aircraft. Saturday shows chronicle the history of flight with pioneer, World War I, and Lindbergh-era aircraft taking to the skies. If the winds are calm, the Bleriot will take to the air (it is the oldest flying aircraft in the United States). Sunday shows feature a World War I dogfight and barnstormers. Shows run through October 16, 2011.
AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.
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