Destinations: Cole Palen’s Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, Rhinebeck N.Y.

Visit Cole Palen’s Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in Rhinebeck, N.Y., for classic motorcycles, aeroplanes and historic reenactments.

Aerodrome 1

This classic Indian 4 is just one of the restored vintage motorcycles on display at the Rhinebeck Aerodrome.

Jeff Alexander

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Rhinebeck, N.Y.
What: Cole Palen’s Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome
How to Get There:  From the North, South, West: New York State Thruway Exit 19 to Rt. 209 North. Follow signs to Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge and cross the Hudson River. Right turn at the second traffic light onto Route 9G South. Next traffic light, turn left onto Route 9 North for 1/2 mile. Right onto Stone Church Road for 1-1/2 miles. Left on Norton Road.
From the East: Mass. Pike or I-84 to Taconic State Parkway. Exit at Rt. 199 Rhinebeck/Red Hook. Rt. 199 west for 6.8 miles. Left onto Orlich Road, then an almost immediate right onto Norton Road for 1-1/2 miles.
Best Kept Secrets:  Grab lunch at Red Hook’s Historic Village Diner, originally manufactured in the 1920s. 7550 North Broadway Red Hook, NY.
Enjoy the relaxing landscape of The Omega Institute. Promoting holistic and spiritual living, deeper fulfillment and healthy lifestyles. 150 Lake Drive Rhinebeck, NY 12572 (845) 266-4444.
Avoid: Heavy and slow afternoon traffic on Route 9G following Dutchess County Fairground events.
More Info:Cole Palen’s Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome relies heavily on membership and admission fees. Air shows begin June 9th. (845) 752-3200.  

Tucked away in the bucolic Hudson Valley city of Rhinebeck, N.Y. is Cole Palen’s Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome. Dedicated to preserving the history of flight and classic vehicles, the Rhinebeck Aerodrome has earned the distinction of ‘a living museum’, thanks to tireless efforts that keep its diverse collection of planes and motorcycles in running order. Aerodrome volunteer mechanic Kurt Muller is among the countless volunteers that work to keep the planes and bikes up and running for the Aerodrome’s famed summer air shows, featuring bikes such as a 1935 Indian 4 and a 1917 Royal Enfield. He shared his experiences restoring the museum’s 1917 Indian.

“It was sitting in the back hanger for 10 years when I saw it 18 months ago, but I realized the first time I saw it was in Cole Palen’s basement back in 1966.”

Muller said the bike initially died due to a bad coil and other challenges which were estimated at $750 to rectify.

“I modified it using a 6 volt dry cell battery hidden in the side case with the coil in the other side case. This worked fine for a short while but then the front cylinder started firing sporadically.”

Muller dedicated his efforts to bringing the Indian back to life and considers it “the coolest bike (he's) ever seen.”

Among the knowledgeable staff at the Rhinebeck Aerodrome is head pilot Bill Gordon, who continues thrilling audiences with his skills while fearlessly flying planes over 95 years old.

“I really enjoy flying the 1917 Curtiss Jenny because of its rich history. It was a training plane for World War I pilots. During World War II, pilots trained on PT-17s, which really changed things because speeds went up to like 400 miles per hour.”

Gordon began his love affair with flight back in the 1980s and completed aviation school with a focus on fighter planes. He praised the Aerodrome for its preservation of history and its unique ability to make it all come alive.

“When compared to other museums, we are living. We take the planes up and we run our vehicles so people can actually see and experience them, as opposed to just being static inside a museum.”

Visitors are also offered the rare opportunity to fly in an open-cockpit 1929 bi-plane over the scenic Hudson River. Check with staff for rates, or visit the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome website.  

Today, Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome continues founder Cole Palen’s vision of taking history to the skies. Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the Aerodrome seeks to attract new generations of visitors anxious to learn more about the wonders of aviation. Intimate tours with passionate staff members allow onlookers access to some exhibits, giving them a hands-on experience. Muller praised the staff as “energetic” and noted their desire “to learn what it takes to baby old engines to keep them happy for years to come.”

Gordon affirmed every plane has been subjected to strict tests and compliance guidelines to ensure safe operability.

“We really do all we can to keep them in the air. Annual inspections can cost thousands of dollars, but much like motorcycles, airplanes just want to run.”