Vintage motorcycles, airplanes, and automobiles, my idea of a perfect destination! Finding ourselves with a few days to travel, we aimed toward the Catskills in New York. Remembering I’d wanted to visit the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome years ago, PrettyWife the Navigator planned our ride to get us there for a show- and what a show it was!
The Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome was the vision Cole Palin, founded in 1958 to keep the flying dreams and aircraft of the pioneers through the Golden Age of Aviation alive and in the air. The Aerodrome grew to a world renown air museum with the static museum open May to October, and weekend flying shows mid-June to mid-October. The mission of the museum is to “entertain and educate by preserving over 60 vintage aircraft, many antique automobiles and motorcycles, and related memorabilia in a classic small town airport setting”, a goal well met.
Well off the beaten path, our ride through a lovely rural residential area took us to a wooded parking lot atop a hill. Not what we expected when searching for an airfield, but a path through the trees opened on the long grass field. Monoplanes, biplanes, and even a triplane waited to fly, and vintage Indian motorcycles ripped up and down the field prepping for the show. The Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome is a “living museum”, and great effort is made to recreate the look and atmosphere of the Golden Age of aviation. Staff (and many regular guests as well?) are dressed for the 1920s-30s, and the marvelous collection of period-appropriate buildings and vehicles help one’s imagination fly them back in time.
Be sure to arrive a bit before the show to wander among the repair shops and hangars- they’re near the flight line and close when the show begins. You never know what might be in a hangar for repairs. On our visit, Lindbergh’s “Spirit of America” (replica) was being serviced, and the mechanic was happy to share the plane’s story. The grass field is in constant motion, with vintage vehicles setting up for the show, and a biplane providing rides to visitors paying for an added thrill. If you’ve never flown “low and slow” in an open cockpit over beautiful terrain, it’s an experience not to be missed.
As it gets close to showtime, announcements are made closing the hangar row and calling for volunteers- and I’d recommend volunteering! Grab some food from the canteen (surprisingly excellent food, by the way) and grab a spot on a bench mid-field. There are no “bad seats”, but much of the show takes place on the field, so shorter folks might want to be closer to the fence. If you happened to volunteer (again, I’d recommend volunteering!), you’re provided a costume and become part of the period “fashion show” center stage. The fashion show participants are then invited to ride in the vintage car parade before the air show!
The air show is pure silliness and excitement, and all marvelous. There are heroes and heroines, those gorgeous vintage airplanes looping and rolling, cars and motorbikes zipping and roaring, pyrotechnics aplenty, and… at least one tuba! You’ll have to visit to learn the story, as you’ll find no spoilers here. However, if you’ve ever seen “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines” or “The Great Race”, you have some idea what you’re in for. Laugh, gasp, cheer, and enjoy!
Once the show has ended, go back through the trees to the parking lot. There’s a second path in the opposite direction that leads to the rest of museum and the requisite gift shop that helps keep the aircraft flying. Several hangars are filled with fascinating aircraft in various states of repair. Remember, this is a very different kind of museum, one in which many of the aircraft may be restored, modified, flying replicas, or merely recovered “junk” that would have been otherwise lost to time. Appreciate the various aircraft, and several motorbikes and cars, for what and where they are. Being here, they have been saved from rotting in obscurity, and may still have their day to be restored to former glory. Revel in a few hours traveling in time.
My visit had been a long time coming, but the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome was all I’d imagined and more. Looking forward to another visit and another show!
Keep Riding Local, Dreaming Global, and rolling safe. See you on the road!