- The Washington Times - Friday, August 22, 2003

RHINEBECK, N.Y. — The first time Dan Taylor’s parents took him to the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in upstate New York, he was 10 and infatuated with airplanes. The love affair was shaped by 1960s movies such as “The Blue Max,” about World War I fighter pilots, and “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines,” about an airplane race.

Mr. Taylor, 44, now lives out his flying fantasies as a pilot in the aerodrome’s weekend air shows. He and the other pilots fly vintage planes and replicas, wear period clothing and engage in endearingly corny narratives.

“You see the old motorcycle or Model T Ford or the original airplane or replica with original engine,” Mr. Taylor said. “It’s moving, it’s making noise, you can smell the castor oil from the rotary engine, you can hear the sounds of the engine, you can close your eyes and pretend it’s like World War I all over again.”

Both museum and flying circus, the aerodrome was the creation of Cole Palen, a mechanically inclined aviation enthusiast who in 1951 spent his life savings on a bunch of World War I-era planes. Mr. Palen died in 1993, and his legacy is carried on at the aerodrome, where the staff also researches and restores or builds airplanes.

“You have to be a little bit of a historian to appreciate the materials and the techniques they used,” pilot Bill King said of the pilots and builders of the past as he prepared to gas up a reproduced World War I-era Albatros D.Va before a recent show.

The aerodrome is in New York’s Hudson River Valley, a popular destination among summer and autumn travelers. There are cruises on the Hudson River, apple- and pumpkin-picking at small farms in the area in September and October, and fall foliage galore.

The aerodrome’s Saturday shows have a “History of Flight” theme, while Sunday shows feature World War I and barnstorming aircraft along with the repeated kidnapping of the hapless Trudy Trulove by the evil Black Baron of Rhinebeck.

“It’s live theater with airplanes, air show coordinator Jim Hare said.

The air shows also use antique automobiles and motorcycles. A boxcar, circa 1916, serves as a meeting place for spectators interested in performing in a historical fashion show. Pilots and crew zip around the airfield on bicycles. Airplanes not used in the shows stand in nearby hangars, including replicas of designs by the Wright brothers.

Many of the airplanes have complicated controls that require the pilots to use their hands, feet and sometimes their entire bodies as they fly above the airfield.

“I have a newfound respect for a lot of the early pioneer pilots,” Mr. Taylor said. “A lot of them were learning the trade as they went along. They were taking great risks, and many paid with their lives.”

During a recent air show, Mr. Taylor piloted a fragile-looking 1911 Curtiss Pusher reproduction down the runway, visibly leaning from side to side to work a wing mechanism that controls the rolling movement as the airplane briefly rose into the air.

“I tell you what, that was worth the price of admission,” spectator Mike Zebley said to his brother as they watched Mr. Taylor take the Curtiss Pusher airborne.

Most Sunday shows also include an appearance by Stanley Segalla as the “Flying Farmer,” a routine he’s been doing for more than 30 years. Playing the part of a neighboring farmer who has “never flown alone,” Mr. Segalla, 78, pilots his bright yellow Piper PA-11 in backward circles and performs other tricks, including a finale in which the plane appears to have run out of gas.

Mr. Segalla, who signed autographs after his routine, has a simple reason for why he’s still flying: “People like my act.”

Dick and Sandi Crawford were last at the aerodrome in 1967, just after they were married.

“It’s just as good, probably better,” Mr. Crawford, 62, said recently as he displayed a postcard of a 1917 Curtiss JN-4H “Jenny,” which he planned to send to his daughter of the same name, a U.S. Army captain stationed in Germany.

Mr. Crawford, of Verona, N.J., said he enjoys the aerodrome because “I believe in saving our history.”

The Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily May through October. Air shows are held, weather permitting, at 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays June through October.

Museum admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and $2 for children 6 to10; air shows are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $5 for children 6 to 10. Special rates are available for groups of 15 or more. Phone 845/752-3200 — or www.oldrhinebeck.org on the Web — for more information.

For information on apple-picking, Hudson River cruises or other local activities, call New York State’s I Love New York tourism office (800/CALL-NYS). On the Web site (www.iloveny.com), go to the travel and tourism page, then click on attractions. Pick “Hudson Valley” from the list of regions and “agriculture” and “tours/excursions” (or whatever interests you) for a list of orchards, boats and other things to do.

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