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Temporary Barnstormer at Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome
Tinted by the fall air and beckoned by the crystal blue dome of the sky at Cole Palen’s Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in early October, I made my way past the food stand and the new field gift shop to the Biplanes Rides Booth, booking one of the four. passenger seats on Hudson Valley Air Tours’ New Standard D-25 open-pilot aircraft.
My ticket, now as low as $100 and a significant increase over its $25 price in 1995, would secure me a space on Flight HV 007, which departed at 1215. Although unofficial, the flight number was made up by the fact that it was the seventh takeoff of the day
I would be accompanied by a young couple who would share the front of the two bench seats, and a white-bearded man who would join me in mine behind them. The pilot, of course, with his own cockpit, was behind us all.
The sign at the departure terminal – translated as “outside Rides Booth” – advised, “New Standard D-25, American, 1928, engine – 220-hp Continental. Designed expressly for the barnstormer, the D.25 was the 25th aircraft by Charles Day. design. It carried four paying passengers, was easy to fly, operated from the smallest fields, and used modern (1928) construction techniques. That, our first New Standard, carried more than 11,000 passengers here at Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome. “
It wasn’t quite right. The passenger total was only accurate a few years ago and its single D-25, registered N19157, was later joined by a second, N176H, which I would fly for the first time today, my other Hudson Valley aerial sightseeing flights were in 1995. , 2000, and 2006.
Field settling after its previous circuit, it taxied to the stall and ejected its four passengers, before the next four, armed with the pre-ride safety briefing and clad in helmets and goggles, were allowed to walk across the grass to the two-step ‘ramp’ ” positioned at the trailing edge of the lower wing. Turnaround time of this now 89-year-old aircraft could be measured in minutes.
Following the root walk of the black-fuselage, orange-wing biplane, whose engine revved and sputtered the entire time, I stepped into the cockpit—and into the Golden Age of grain storm. Claiming the left of the two rear bench seats (2A) and extending my seat belt, like a metal handshake, to that of the passenger next to me in 2B, I intimately connected it with his. Shared bench seats meant shared seat belts.
The attack of the ears and nose, even with its propeller in idle rotation, resulted in an immediate immersion in the late 1920s, cabin-empty technology. So violent was the current that my nostrils could not swallow the air and the throaty sputtering of the engine was deafening. I, as in my other open cockpit cases, hoped to experience this era of aviation through my senses. Maybe I was—and I was still on the ground no less.
If its idle setting was a snooze, then its throttle advance resulted in a rude awakening. Brake-released, the biplane began its sprint over the grass toward the threshold of the runway, which, in this case, was the southern end of the field, a grassy hill, overtaking it and swinging around to the right, in a 180-degree turn, on its tail wheel.
There was no clearance. There was no radio to feed it with. Nor was there any other ground traffic to worry about.
Full throttle advance, opening the arteries of the fuel and pumping the plane’s engine with life-exploding plasma, induced the plane into a gravity-assisted thrust down the hill, at the bottom of which its tail rose in horizontal stabilizer flight, enabling the wings to make . the rest and generate lift.
The slip current created by the rotating propeller and the increasing air speed, hopelessly unrestricted by the small Plexiglas windshield, hit my face and served as such an attack on my nostrils that they ironically failed to accept, despite the overabundance of air, the substance itself. that’s what my lungs needed.
It certainly reached the wings, however, its increased speed being inversely counteracted by its decreased pressure and enabling the biplane to jump from the rolling strip of grass. Double wings meant double the amount of surface area and its lift-generating ability. Surrendering to the cold, vivid, crystal blue, it passed the line of aircraft apparently tucked into a preserved pocket of history on the port side in the form of Caudron G.III, Albatros D.Va, and Fokker Dr.1. triplane
Surpassing the north end of the field and briefly banking to the left, the D-25 triumphed over the shrinking green of the Hudson Valley. Norton Road, now a ribbon narrower than the type used in package wrapping, passed under the port wing. Viewed from a different and downward perspective, it was the road from which I looked up at this same airplane as I approached the airport, which now receded behind my left shoulder.
Passing the earth’s physical boundaries, the D-25 cut through the blue tinted with an autumnal bite, its orange, brace-interlocked, fabric-covered wings passing over the still mostly green trees and patches of farmland only occasionally highlighted by a lemon sentinel.
A break facilitated my inner contemplation, both of the four-person cabin and my place in it on forward surreys into the grain storm sky of Cole Palen. I was currently occupying my original seat – that is, the one I was introduced to in the element-discovery era of air travel back in 1995. In the front, to the right of the two seats – 1B – sat Joseph, one of mine. Farmingdale State University Aviation History Course fellow students and next to him in 1A, Christian, as I recall, another in our class. I replaced Jose on my next two aerial ascents in 2000 and 2006 and my mother sat next to me on both.
Now I was theoretically sitting behind her – or at least her seat – but, since she had left the physical plane some 20 months earlier, I could only include her in my current flight by approaching the unfriendly slide of ground links and hovering from which. her soul was now certainly capable. It was up here now with me, I knew.
Cole Palen himself, founder of his famous aerodrome, crossed the line between the physical and eternal dimensions two years before that initial battle in 1995, and, after graduation, I never saw Jose or Christian again. Well, at least I still had myself.
The wind, perhaps echoing them all, wrestled with the engine for sonic dominance, but, although the latter technically won, both roared and howled in their own way. Could the open cockpit experience be as authentic without them? I doubt that.
Bordering the edges of the Hudson River, an azure snake that interspersed the green topography, the D-25 banked to the left before reaching the steel, an erection similar to Rhinecliff Bridge, signaling a too soon return to the field.
Its shadow, a ground-reflected silhouette, bounced across the farm geometries below like a boundless spirit and certainly bore Cole’s imprint.
Riding the invisible air currents, the biplane initiated a series of sharp s-turns, its wings swaying and protesting with each maneuver and its airspeed fluctuations registered as audible wind gusts.
Passing perpendicularly over the green patch that was Old Rhinebeck’s grain storm airport at 500 feet, the D-25 arced around in a descending left turn in a power-reduced, gravity-drag approach, practically diving toward the clumps of trees obstructing its southern end.
Passing over the hill, it arrested its descent speed at about 100 feet above the ground, bursting into flames and suddenly catching the gravel road traversing the field on its two wheels and allowing the resistance of its grass to drain it of its momentum.
Swinging around to the left with a burst of power, it rolled back to the Biplane Driving Booth under the intense midday blue.
Releasing the buckle of the seat belt I shared with the man I never knew, but with whom I had exchanged occasional, kindred glances in the air, I climbed out of the cockpit of the still surging biplane and down the wing root to the ground -and back in 2017.
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