Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome’s museum opens for 50th anniversary season

Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome’s 1909 Bleriot.

Now that our long dry spell finally seems to have ended, you may be remembering the record-breaking wet summer of 2011 and thinking ahead to fun activities for rainy days. The Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome doesn’t kick off its famous weekend air shows until June 9, but its intriguing Museum opens for the season this Saturday, May 12 at 10 a.m. – its 50th season, to be precise.

Unlike the air shows, which go forward only when weather conditions permit safe flight in fragile old planes, the Museum is open all week long from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., rain or shine, right through October. It may not be quite as hair-raising as watching those craft take to the air, but you can spend hours wandering around the Aerodrome’s big hangars studying the extensive collection of antique, restored and reproduction aircraft that Cole Palen began amassing in the early 1960s.

The Aerodrome collection of classic airplanes of British, German, French and American vintage includes one of the oldest airworthy aircraft remaining in the world: a restored 1909 Bleriot XI with an original three-cylinder Anzani radial engine. Among its other gems are exact replicas of three Wright Brothers craft; some restored early “pushers” by New York State’s own Glenn Curtiss and W. T. Thomas; Fokker bi- and triplanes from World War I; a Sopwith Camel, beloved wings of Snoopy, and an accurate Sopwith Dolphin reproduction built by Palen himself. There’s even an odd-looking four-winged Passatt ornithopter. And an exact replica of Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis is currently under construction.


Some people will really enjoy the vintage aircraft engines on display; but if you’re bringing the kids, they will probably have more fun checking out some of the land-based vehicles in the collection. Besides the Ford Model Ts, the Aerodrome boasts a 1916 moving van, a 1917 ambulance that looks like it’s right out of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, a 1922 firetruck and a couple of light tanks from World War I.

The earliest automobile in the collection is a 1903 Grout steam car, and there’s also a 1911 Baker electric car: good reminders of the as-yet-unrealized potential for a world that doesn’t depend entirely on petroleum. Finally, bikers will love the fabulous collection of two-wheelers: a 1913 Excelsior motorbike; a 1909 Merkel light motorbike that recalls what mopeds looked like before the term got hijacked to mean a motor scooter; three Indian motorcycles, a Royal Enfield and a Ural with a sidecar.

If you’re coming on a weekday for the Museum only, admission is: $10 for adults, $8 for youths aged 13 to 17 and seniors aged 65 and up, $3 for kids aged 6 to 12 and free for kids aged 5 and under. On the weekends, those prices go up to $20, $15 and $5 respectively and include the air show.

On Saturday, June 2, the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome will hold a fundraising dinner and silent auction to raise money to refurbish the facility’s 1918-vintage rest rooms. The cost is $100 per person and will include a three-course gourmet meal from Terrapin Catering. Contact Carol at (845) 752-3200 for reservations. The following Saturday, June 9, kicks off the summer air-show season, and Sunday, June 10 will be British Car Rally day.

The Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome is located at 9 Norton Road in Red Hook. Visit www.oldrhinebeck.org for more information.