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Temporary Barnstormer at Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome
Covered by the fall air and drawn by the crystal blue dome of the sky at Cole Palen’s Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in early October, I walked past the food stand and new gift shop on the grounds to the Biplanes Rides booth, booking one of four passenger seats in Hudson Valley Air Tours’ new D-25 standard open-cockpit airplane.
My ticket, now priced at an even $100 and a significant increase over its $25 price in 1995, would get me space on Flight HV 007, which departed at 1215. Although unofficial, the number of the flight was created by the fact that it was the seventh ascent and Day.
I would be accompanied by a young couple who would share the striker of the two bench seats and a white bearded man who would join me at the wheel behind them. The pilot, of course, with his cockpit, was behind all of us.
The sign on the departure terminal, translated as “outside the flight deck”, advises, “New Standard D-25, American, 1928, Engine – 220-hp Continental. Designed expressly for the barnstormer, the D.25 was the aircraft of the 25 Charles Day’s Design. It carried four paying passengers, was easy to fly, operated out of smaller fields, and used modern (1928) construction techniques. This, our first new standard, has carried over 11,000 passengers here at Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome.”
It was not entirely accurate. The passenger total was accurate only a few years ago and his single D-25, registered N19157, had since been joined by a second, N176H, which I was to fly for the first time today, my flights Other aerial visits to the Hudson Valley occurred in 1995, 2000 and 2006.
Setting up on the ground after his previous circuit, he went to the cockpit and removed four of his passengers, before the other four, armed with the pre-departure safety briefing and wearing helmets and goggles, were allowed through. bar to the two-step “ramp” positioned at the trailing edge of the lower wing. The turning time of this now 89-year-old plane can be measured in minutes.
Following the root-walk streak of the black-hulled, orange-winged biplane, whose engine whirred and sputtered all the while, I entered the cockpit—and the Golden Age of barnstorming. 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 laced it closely with his. Shared bench seats meant shared seat belts.
The attack of the ears and nose, even with its propeller idling, resulted in an immediate plunge into late 1920s cockpit-less technology. So rough was the slide that my nostrils could not swallow the air and the screeching of the engine was deafening. I, as on my other open cockpit occasions, had hoped to experience this era of aviation through my senses. Maybe I was—and I was still on earth no less.
If its idle setting was a snooze, then its throttle advance resulted in a rude awakening. After braking, the biplane began its sprint over the grass towards the threshold of the runway, which, in this case, was the south end of the field, the turf hill, crossing it and turning to its right, in a turn 180 degrees, on its tail.
There was no clearance. There was no radio to provide him with. Nor was there any other ground traffic to worry about.
A full throttle advance, opening the fuel arteries and pumping the jet’s engine with life-exploding plasma, propelled the plane into a gravity-assisted thrust down the hill, at the end of which its tail lifted into horizontal flight. of the stabilizer, allowing the wings to do the rest and generate lift.
The slipstream created by the rotating propeller and the rising air velocity, hopelessly unfettered by the tiny Plexiglas pane, hit my face and served as such an assault on my nostrils that they ironically refused, despite the overabundance. of air, the substance itself. that my lungs needed.
Of course it reached the wings, however, its increased speed was inversely opposed by its decreased pressure and enabled the biplane to bounce off the spinning grass strip. Double wings meant twice the surface area and its ability to generate lift. Surrendering to the cold, vivid, crystal blue, he passed the line of aircraft seemingly submerged in a preserved pocket of history on the port side in the form of a Caudron G.III, an Albatros D.Va and a Fokker Dr. 1 tripartite.
Passing the north end of the field and turning briefly to the left, the D-25 triumphed over the receding green of Hudson Valley proportions. Norton Road, now a narrower ribbon than that used in wrapping parcels, ran under the harbor wing. Seen from a different angle and down, it was the road from which I had seen this very plane as I approached the aerodrome, which now receded behind my left shoulder.
Having crossed the physical boundaries of earth, the D-25 cuts through the blue with an autumn bite, its orange, pole-linked, fabric-covered wings passing over the still mostly green tree and patches of farmland, highlighted only occasionally by a lemon keeper.
A pause eased my inward contemplation, both of the four-man cabin and of my location in it in former lands in Cole Palen’s stormy skies. I am currently occupying my original seat—that is, the one I was thrust into in the weather-exposed era of air travel in 1995. In the front, to the right of the two seats—1B—sat Jose, one of the Fellows of the History Course of Farmingdale State University Aviation and next to him in 1A, Christian, as I recall, another in our class. I replaced Jose on my next two aerial climbs in 2000 and 2006 and my mother sat next to me on both.
Now I theoretically sat behind her – or at least her chair – but, since she left the physical plane some 20 months ago, I could only include her in my current flight approaching the terrible slide of earth connections and the growth of which her soul was now surely capable. It was here so far with me, I knew.
Cole Palen himself, the founder of his famous aerodrome, eclipsed the boundary between the physical and eternal dimensions two years before that initial fight in 1995 and, after graduation, I never saw Jose or Christian again. Well, at least I still had myself.
The wind, perhaps echoing everyone, fought with the engine for vocal dominance, but, although the latter technically won, both howled and howled in their own way. Could the open cockpit experience have been as authentic without them? I doubt it.
Along the edges of the Hudson River, a bluish snake weaving through the verdant topography, the D-25 moved away before arriving at the steel, lift-like array of the Rhinecliff Bridge, signaling a very quick return to the field.
Her shadow, a silhouette reflected from the ground, danced across the geometries of the farm below like a boundless breath, and definitely bore Cole’s imprint.
Riding the invisible air currents, the biplane launched into a series of sharp turns, its wings flapping and protesting with each maneuver, its airspeed fluctuations registering as audible wind intensities.
Passing perpendicularly over the green that was Old Rhinebeck Storm Airfield at 500 feet, the D-25 banked into a left descending turn on a power-reduced approach, pulling gravity, practically diving toward the clumps of trees. that obstructed its southern end.
Going over the hill, he stopped the descent at about 100 meters above the ground, turning on and suddenly grabbing the gravel path that crosses the field with his two wheels and allowing the resistance of the grass to throw him off his momentum.
Swinging to the left with a burst of power, she returned to the biplane travel cabin under the intense blue of noon.
Releasing the buckle of the seat belt I’d shared with the man I’d never met but with whom I’d exchanged occasional midair glances, I climbed out of the biplane’s still-flowing cockpit and down the wing root to the ground—and again in 2017.
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