Art by Reilly O’Neill.
Art by Reilly O’Neill.

New Things are Coming to The Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome

February 11, 2022

Walking through the wooden step bridge to open airspace you can immediately tell the Aerodrome gets a lot of love. 

With weekend volunteers keeping the air shows and museums  running with the consistent moving and repairing of 100-year-old cars and planes this place is one of a kind.

Cole Palen established Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in 1958 “with a handful of airplanes and a dream.” says Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome. 

And both the planes and the dreams live on, this aerodrome holds resistance on a quaint backroad, strangling town lines between Rhinebeck and Red hook, where many dreamers like Cole Palen continue his legacy. 

Cole Palen’s name is heard among many conversations at the aerodrome as he built the Old Rhinebeck from scratch. The story goes that in 1958 Cole Palen found a farm for sale in Rhinebeck, bought and used the land to create a runaway and hangers from scrapes. The aerodrome was open to public viewing not long after. 

Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome grew in both size and popularity as one of the wonders of world warplanes and historic attractions. After his passing, the aerodrome became a non-profit organization.. The Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome was established in 1993, as a non-profit organization. The mission statement states “Our mission is preserving, restoring and flying the aircraft of the Pioneer, WWI, and Golden Ages of Aviation.”

This holds true to this day. These historic planes look brand new as Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome takes their restoration very seriously, wanting to keep everything within the plane as it was in its prime. 

One of the many keeping up the aerodrome is Stew Sommerville, the general manager.  He has had a leadership role running Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome for 4 years now. Sommerville has been involved with the aerodrome most of his life. His father was a volunteer at Old Rhinebeck and saw his first airshow at 11 years old. 

Stew Sommerville volunteered in high school and after college returned to the aerodrome whenever he found time. When a job opened up at Old Rhinebeck, he retired from a 23 year teaching career at the Maplebrook School, to manage the Aerodrome. 

Although he has a love for aviation, his main area of interest is rebuilding cars. He also has a talent for art and spends whatever free time he has painting. 

Surprisingly, the Aerodrome is a landmark that many locals have not visited, even though it’s considered an attraction for many tourists from around the country.

Mark Mondello is one of the pilots for the airshow at the aerodrome. Mark is the Director of Aircraft Maintenance and started as a volunteer in 2004.

After that and many more jobs around the museum, he went and he eventually became Old Rhinebeck’s full-time mechanic in 2014.

From May to October, visitors are welcome to walk the grounds, talk to the mechanics, and learn all they can about the planes and cars. 

The show is loved by aerodrome visitors, but the most notable attraction is the biplane ride. 

For those who don’t know, a biplane is a plane with two pairs of wings one above the other, used by the first-in-flight Wright brothers.  

The aerodrome offers rides on a historic biplane on both weekends and weekdays. During the season you can call the home office of the aerodrome on weekdays, so you can schedule a ride for the time you want during the week, as on weekends it is first-come, first-serve.

The aerodrome offers Biplane rides, in a 1929 New Standard D-25 when the weather allows for it. A flight can be bought for 100 per-person no matter age and can be taken before and after the airshow that is from 2-4 pm. This historic Biplane may carry four passengers at a time.

Everyone who is not a part of the grounds crew or an employee of the aerodrome must remain behind a white picket fence as the aerodrome has an active runway. 

The airshow has remained the same show since this place began, in order to keep the historical past-time feel the aerodrome strives to give to their customers. 

Many long-time visitors can attest to this. As many have visited the aerodrome as a child and state almost nothing has changed.

Chief Pilot Clay Hammond is one of the pilots that fly the Standard D-25 owned by Old Rhinebeck. During weekends Clay flies both the biplane rides and in the show. If you go for a biplane ride there is a very good chance Clay Hammond will be your pilot. Interestingly enough, not only did Hammond visit the Aerodrome as a child but his parents worked for Cole Palen. Yes, the man himself. 

And it’s still improving as recently with a 13 MILLION DOLLAR grant from the Disosway Foundation that is now being used to create better and safer hangers for these one-of-a-kind planes to be stored then. 

There will also be new buildings to increase the museum’s efficiency during show season as well as a designated events space to enhance Old Rhinebecks education program. These are just some of the improvements this grant will bring in for Old Rhinebeck. 

Come to this year’s season starting in May to see some of these improvements for yourself.


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  • T

    Ted DavisMar 10, 2022 at 8:24 am

    Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome was an inspiration for me almost 50 years ago as I visited and watched one of their weekend shows with Cole Palen. It was like stepping back in time to the 20’s as I remember. A more recent visit a couple years ago with my son reinforced his love of antique aviation and showed me that not much has changed over the years as the atmosphere is still magical and Cole Palens spirit lives on. I recommend that everyone with young kids to make this a spot to visit when traveling through the Hudson valley area of New York, as it may inspire more younger minds to think about aviation as a hobby or career. I myself, have had an awesome life immersed in antique/classic aircraft rebuilding and flying and hope to have spread some of Coles infectious aviation spirit here in the Midwest.

  • D

    Dave BalintFeb 27, 2022 at 6:01 am

    ORA is a treasure to be cherished by the people of Rhinebeck. Though I now live in Spain I volunteered at ORA from 1968-1971 and from 1973-1978. I worked for Cole Palen in 1972 and helped build the Albatross D-Va at ORA. I thank Rhinebeck for having given me a great place to grow up and RCS for a world class education that serves me well to this day!