I don’t know how I knew the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome was there. I just knew there was a grass strip airport over-the-border in New York State that featured classic airplanes. That’s all I knew when I asked my friend Harvey Kliman if he wanted to go?
Harvey knew less than I knew!
We both knew it was a photo op. For Harvey that means video with his HD camcorder. For me stills–lots of stills.
Sunday was forecast to be beautiful so we planned to meet around 10:00 AM for the two hour top down drive. The automated routemakers from Google and Garmin wanted us to drive the fast way but I had other ideas. We headed up Route 8 to Winsted, then west-northwest through the corner of Connecticut and into New York.
With less than three miles to go and no other automotive aerodrome traffic in site my GPS turned us onto a neighborhood street which quickly became a gravel road. Before Harvey and I could get a handle on what was going on the gravel turned back to pavement and a small sign assured us we were on the right path.
Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome is what the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum might aspire to, if it could just use the Washington Mall as a runway!
Rhinebeck is a museum of the living. Its home is an idyllic strip of land nestled between the trees. A few handfuls of very old planes sit adjacent to a grass runway. These planes fly!
I walked to a cotton rope which separated the hoi polloi from the exhibits. A man dressed as a mechanic circa 1935 said I could come in and take some photos.
Good God, flying was different back then. These planes were simple–yet intricate. Simplicity meant a minimum of adjustments and controls. What was intricate were the cables and spars and fasteners that held it all together.
Safety was never a design consideration. Pilots were outside and exposed to everything the plane had to take.
For $65 I got to climb into a 1937 New Standard D25 and fly a few circuits over the Hudson Valley.
I have flown in everything from an F/A-18 to an ultralight. This was a totally new experience.
With four passengers and a lone pilot the plane taxied to the end of the runway and up a tiny rise. That little molehill provided a extra speed for our lazy takeoff. On this calm day there was more connection to the atmosphere than I expected as we clumsily lurched skyward.
Beautiful doesn’t begin to describe our view. We flew low and slow toward the Kingston-Rhineclif Bridge. The sky was blue. The air was warm. Beneath us were farms and the huge homes of rich city folk who sometimes bought them. There were mountains in the distance in nearly every direction.
It was loud in the open cockpit–and windy! I held Clicky tight, wrapping its strap around my arm.
The trip didn’t last much more than 10 minutes, but that was enough. I was convinced.
At 2:30 Rhinebeck held an airshow. Imagine an assisted living facility talent show… but for airplanes!
One-by-one small crews of men gingerly coaxed the engines to fire. There was smoke as propellers began to spin. Sometimes the engines made it clear by their sound there was only so much they were willing to do! The planes taxie to the runway’s end, turned and then ran toward takeoff.
For the oldest few takeoff meant a few feet up before setting back onto the turf. I heard someone say they don’t fly “higher than the pilots would want to fall.”
Most rolled down the runway at full throttle then eased off the ground and over the trees.