On the Wings of a Moth During Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome’s 54th Season

The first warmth of summer and whiff of freshly mowed grass signal a return to aviation’s barnstorming era here in the mid-Hudson Valley, because that grass graces the gently rolling field Cole Palen hacked out more than half a century ago to create the “runway” for his Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome.

As the yellow and white striped canopy was raised next to its snack stand by some half-dozen ground crew volunteers on the flawlessly blue June 1 morning this year, it symbolically promised that the wire-braced and fabric-covered biplanes time-warped from the beginning of the 20th century would follow.

The hangar doors, yawning open after their “long winter’s nap,” revealed the purpose of this aerial resurrection-the still-flying Bleriot XI, the Caudron G.3, the Hanriot, and the Curtiss Model D-and the field’s crew-cut lawn would soon serve as their showcase. Like salmon returning to their origins, they would feel at home here–any hard surface, such as concrete or macadam, considered out of their element.

But, in the meantime, the yet-to-be-heard rotary engines were replaced by the enthusiastic teamwork restoring life to the aerodrome.

“We’re looking forward to gearing up our season to a point where the next will be the most spectacular one we’ve ever had,” said Jose Millares, Old Rhinebeck Air Show President and chief pilot. “Next year will mark the beginning of the 100th anniversary of World War I and, in preparation for it, this place will be abuzz with cameras and filmmakers this year. It’s going to be a very exciting time.”

But, during that ramp-up, two new aircraft will perform on Old Rhinebeck’s stage, the first of which is the de Havilland DH.82 Tiger Moth.

“It’s a biplane,” said Bill King, veteran aerodrome pilot and owner of the aircraft. “It’s not very fast, but it can make graceful turns and maneuvers.

“It was designed in 1929 as a standard training plane for the Royal Air Force,” he continued. “I think about 14,000 were made and they stopped production in ’45. It was made in England, Canada, and Australia. After pilots were trained on Tiger Moths in England, they went straight to Hurricanes and Spitfires, which were very sophisticated airplanes.”

Although it is not a part of the Old Rhinebeck collection, it will nevertheless plug an important gap in the history of early aviation, whose story is enacted every weekend during two air shows.

“I had another Tiger Moth with my brother,” said Bill. “Got it in ’68 and we flew it here from ’69 to ’84, when my brother bought me out.”

Now, the two-place trainer will be flown by his son, David.

“It can be used for the ribbon cutting, balloon bursting, and bomb raiding events,” he said.

Another new, inter-war design that will be introduced this year is the high-wing Aeronca C-3, often dubbed the “bathtub.” Considered the world’s first light airplane for private, single-pilot use, it sports a two-cylinder, 36-hp engine and a significant wing to provide the necessary lift.

“Speak of an iconic aircraft,” said Jose. “It’s slow. Really slow-like ‘can’t you go any faster than that?’ But it’s a classic representation of early-1930’s aviation and we’re excited to introduce it to our air show patrons-in this case, during our 54th season.”

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