When the high-wing, fabric-covered Bleiriot XI, an original aircraft dating back to 1911, had arced skyward, albeit briefly, from Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome’s rolling, green grass field straddled on either side by the red, orange, and yellow October-brushed trees reminiscent of the 1910 and 1920 barnstorming days, it had seemed as if this era of aviation had suddenly been resurrected.
Located on tiny, easily-missed Norton Road on the east side of the 水性潤滑劑 Hudson River not far from the historic village of Rhinebeck, New York, equidistant from the Taconic State Parkway and the New York State Thruway, Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome is both the story of, and start of, one person’s dream. Unlike many people’s dreams, however, his actually came true, but not until years of perseverance, dedication, and hard work had transformed them into reality.
That person had been Cole Palen, born James H. Palen, Jr., and that dream had been the recreation of the antique era of aviation through a living history museum where vintage aircraft would routinely fly.
Having grown up next to the old Poughkeepsie Airport in New York, Palen had earned his Airframe and Powerplant license at the Roosevelt Aviation School on Long Island and had subsequently obtained his Private Pilot License, buying a Piper Cub. The seeds of his aerodrome had been planted when he had located six partially- and fully-assembled antique aircraft in 1951 at Roosevelt Field which had to be cleared for a new shopping mall. After bidding his life savings, he had acquired them. The location had thus become famous as both the starting point of Lindbergh’s solo transatlantic flight and Palen’s eventual Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome. Paris, the former’s destination, had been 3,500 miles away, while the Palen farm in Rhinebeck, the latter’s destination, had been only 100 miles away, yet had taken far longer to reach.
After storage in abandoned chicken coops, the six aircraft, comprised of a 1917 SPAD XII, a 1918 Standard J-1, a 1914 Avro 504K, a 1918 Curtiss Jenny, a 1918 Sopwith Snipe 7F1, and a 1918 Aeromarine 39B, had formed his initial fleet and the “aerodrome” had been comprised of a 1,000-foot-long, rocky, swamp-drained clearing called a “runway” and a single crude building serving as a “hangar” on a patch of farmland he had subsequently purchased. Additional aircraft acquisitions-and parts of them-had expanded the mostly biplane lineup, after considerable restoration and reconstruction.
Always motivated by his passion for antique aviation, he had continued to expand the crude aerodrome, but it had taken on new meaning when it had attracted public interest. An initial air show, performed before a crowd of 25 with a handful of World War I aircraft, had occurred in 1960 and had yielded to a scheduled one held on the last Sunday of each of the summer months as of 1967. Aerodrome improvements had resulted in the lengthening of the grass strip to 1,500 and ultimately 2,000 feet, and the aircraft had comprised the largest, privately owned collection in the northeast.
During the 1970s, the air show had been held every Saturday and Sunday, weather permitting, from May to October, and 40 authentic and replica aircraft with original engines had comprised the fleet. Five had been used in the filming of “Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines.”