Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome

At 2:30 Rhinebeck held an airshow. Imagine an assisted living facility talent show… but for airplanes!

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.

Wow.

Really.

Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up

My friend Howard, a show biz manager, says you should never meet the entertainers you admire. He’s probably right. I’d still like to meet Steve Martin, though I’m probably not capable of carrying it off.

Last week, after reading an article by Steve Martin in Smithsonian Magazine, I sent an email to my friend Farrell:

“I want to be Steve Martin… except for his unhappiness.”

He responded:

“He is a great writer, too. Be Geoff.”

Nice sentiment. I appreciated it. This is why you have friends.

I went on to write about Martin in the blog, leading regular reader Jim&#185 in Truckee, CA to comment:

Thanks for mentioning the Steve Martin article. I’m right in the middle of his latest book, Born Standing Up, A Comics Life. If you liked that article in the Smithsonian, you’ll enjoy the book…

Five minutes later I was on Amazon. The book came yesterday.

I can’t tell you why, but when I came home from work tonight, I sat down and read the book – the whole book. I could not stop.

My friend Howard, a show biz manager, says you should never meet the entertainers you admire. He’s probably right. I’d still like to meet Steve Martin, though I’m probably not capable of carrying it off.

We share nothing in our background. He came from a family with little warmth. My family heated our whole apartment building. He had the chutzpah to perform live. I did my comedy on the radio where I was well hidden.

We’ve learned many of the same lessons.

I find him bright and witty – a Renaissance man in a world filled with people who eschew knowledge or any historical perspective. He followed a complex route to get there. He wasn’t as smart or observant in his twenties as he is now in his (shudder) sixties.

It’s good to see age does have some payoff.

When stand-up was no longer satisfying, he stopped. He was huge. He just stopped.

At first I was not famous enough. then I was too famous, now I am just right.

Steve Martin’s “Born Standing Up is in hard cover.

&#185 – It should be noted, there are a bunch of regulars who comment on this blog from time-to-time. Jim in Truckee, for instance.

These are mostly people I don’t know.

I’m not sure why you’re here or what you find so compelling. I am flattered you find what I say interesting enough to come back on a steady basis and I’m always thrilled when you post a comment.

In real life, experience has shown the more you know me, the less scintillating I am.

Philosophy From Steve Martin

As a performer, most nights you’re going to be disappointed with your work. Sad, but true. You need to accept that and continue to ‘play hard.’ And, when you really do it right, don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ve unlocked the secret

Steve Martin has an article in the current issue of Smithsonian Magazine. I’m a real fan. He is a Renaissance man in an age of Luddites.

There’s a quote I want to share. As a performer, it makes a lot of sense to me.

“I learned a lesson: it was easy to be great. Every entertainer has a night when everything is clicking. These nights are accidental and statistical: like lucky cards in poker, you can count on them occurring over time. What was hard was to be good, consistently good, night after night, no matter what the circumstances.”

As a performer, most nights you’re going to be disappointed with your work. Sad, but true. You need to accept that and continue to ‘play hard.’

And, when you really do it right, don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ve unlocked the secret.

No matter what, if you grade your performance over time, your average will be average.

I’m The Master Of The Forgone Conclusion

On September 30, 2004, before SpaceShipOne had made its second X-Prize voyage but after it had spun its way to near space, I wrote:

Rutan will figure a way to get around this problem for one more flight, win the prize, and modify this design into a more stable model for commercial work. SpaceShipOne will go to the Smithsonian before it can hurt anyone.

It went on display today.

The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum is one of the most amazing places in Washington. It was worth the trip before – now even more.

My SpaceShipOne Prediction – Coming True

Before Burt Rutan won the X-Prize, back when SpaceShipOne made its first flight to space, there was a problem… a scary roll. I was uneasy watching what went on and I said so here.

Watching the roll, I assumed I was watching a disaster in the making. I knew there was no reason for the ship to corkscrew itself into space. Any second I expected to see a wing break off or parts begin to disintegrate.

I immediately made a prediction based on the very little I know about this kind of project.

September 30, 2004

Rutan will figure a way to get around this problem for one more flight, win the prize, and modify this design into a more stable model for commercial work. SpaceShipOne will go to the Smithsonian before it can hurt anyone.

I actually forgot all about that prediction until I read an interview with Burt Rutan today in the Palm Springs Desert News.

We looked at a lot of things to do with it. We have a lot of requests

SpaceShipOne

I woke up early (for me) Wednesday, turned on the TV and saw SpaceShipOne fly to space and back. Very impressive. It looks likely this entry from Burt Rutan will claim the $10,000,000 Ansari X Prize. That’s something I first predicted back in May – though it didn’t take a genius to come to that conclusion.

OK – it cost more than $10,000,000 to develop the ship, but that’s not the point. This venture has commercial potential beyond the X Prize itself.

I watched on CNN because I think Miles O’Brien is not only knowledgeable but he’s connected and often has information others do not. I thought sitting him with Burt’s brother Dick, an aerospace legend in his own right who piloted the first non-stop round the world unrefueled flight, was a bad idea. Either Dick’s mind was somewhere else (excusable under the circumstances) or he just doesn’t have the right makeup for TV.

The plane took off, tucked under another Burt Rutan flying contraption. In this regard it was similar to the early X-15 rocket plane, launched from beneath the wing of a B-52. At about 50,000 feet SpaceShipOne was released and within seconds its rubber burning engine was pushing it toward the heavens&#185.

A minute or so later SpaceShipOne, moving vertically, began to roll. I’ve seen a number of different figures but it was at least 16 revolutions, maybe more.

Watching the roll, I assumed I was watching a disaster in the making. I knew there was no reason for the ship to corkscrew itself into space. Any second I expected to see a wing break off or parts begin to disintegrate.

Obviously none of that happened. On the ground, pilot Mike Melville said it was probably something he had done. I don’t believe that for one second.

With the backing of Richard Branson, SpaceShipOne is the prototype for space tourism. It’s not good for business to say your rocket ship is unstable or difficult to control – but it surely is.

Rutan will figure a way to get around this problem for one more flight, win the prize, and modify this design into a more stable model for commercial work. SpaceShipOne will go to the Smithsonian before it can hurt anyone.

This is a great program. The government’s space program is so top heavy, so money laden, that it has discouraged anyone else to get into the business. Rutan and people like him will change that paradigm.

Under different circumstances I would be very upset about the post-flight claims concerning the spinning. Today, I’ll let it pass.

&#185 – I have read and like to say it’s a tire burning engine. Dave Brody, former Executive Producer of Inside Space (a show I hosted under his tutelage) on the SciFi Channel and now in a similar position at Space.com, says it actually burns condoms – a much more romantic thought.

Oh Wilbur

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of flight – the day when the Wright Brothers little plane flew the dunes at Kill Devil Hills in Kitty Hawk, NC.

I know there were some ceremonies, and the new Smithsonian air museum’s opening was meant to coincide, but I am personally disappointed that more wasn’t done to celebrate this triumph. This has to be on the short list of most important inventions of the 20th century.

My parents tell the story of how, for their honeymoon, they drove to California. My mom says they felt, “When would we ever have the opportunity to go again?” Today, it’s simple to pick up and fly nearly anywhere… and we do. I’ve gone to California from Connecticut to attend a birthday party and once flew in Saturday morning and out Sunday morning, allowing me to only miss one night in my bed at home.

For people, airplane travel has drastically changed over the last 20 years – since PEOPLExpress. It used to be, you’d get dressed up for the upscale experience of flying. Now, you’re just a cog in the air transport machine. Though airfares are cheaper, I’d love to see a comparison of travel times, which have to be longer thanks to the hub and spoke system.

Over the past century, the cost of air transport for goods has also gone down. So now it’s possible to have fresh fruit year round in the Northeast, or get parts shipped to a factory overnight to keep production running. One word: FedEx.

Much of aviation’s growth stems from our government’s sales of surplus aircraft after WWII. I believe that no longer happens, and it’s a shame. The military destroys too much that still has value. Is there even a military surplus market anymore?

Wilbur and Orville were quiet men. The first flight wasn’t a ‘press event,’ though a telegram home to Dayton asked the family to alert the press to what they’d done. The Wright Flyer, as designed, was almost impossible to fly with any stability. It’s a wonder they got into the air at all (though gusty northerly winds didn’t hurt) much less lived to talk about it.

Today of all days, I just wish we’d celebrate them a little more.