Lately when I mention the idea of a family outing, I am usually greeted by at least one ‘tween giving me an eye roll. This is not a proud parenting moment as I am trying to keep my three children (with an age gap of five years between the oldest and youngest) entertained and educated this summer. So when I mentioned a family outing to the Old Rhinebeck Aerodome complete with air shows featuring antique biplanes, their collective antennae went up. All of my kids love flying and with the extra bonus of seeing 40 vintage vehicles from 1900-1940 onsite, their curiosity was piqued.
The Old Rhinebeck Aerodome has been around for more than 60 years and it is easy to see why this place has so much appeal, whether you’re an aviation fan or not. It was built by Cole Palen, an aviation mechanic from Poughkeepsie whose lifelong dream was to open a living museum of vintage aircraft from 1900-1937.
In 1950, Roosevelt Field (of the Long Island shopping mall fame) contained air hangars and was a functioning airport. One of those air hangars contained vintage aircraft. In 1951 when the site was designated for the Mall’s development, Palen took his life savings to purchase six vintage aircraft and eventually a farm in Northern Duchess County where the Aerodome today still stands.
The best time to visit the Aerodome is the weekends when they hold air shows at 2 p.m. These fun-filled shows, that last approximately two hours, feature several vintage aircraft doing amazing tricks in the air. The Sunday show is particularly family-friendly as it contains a vintage fashion show before the aerial demonstration plus a lively cast of entertaining characters. Over a public announcement system a master of ceremony explains the make, model and a few historical tidbits of each World War I aircraft in the demonstrations. He also provides a glimpse of what life was like in America during this tumultuous time.
My kids got a kick out of the skydivers jumping from the aircraft landing with their parachutes on the field. They also enjoyed watching the airplanes perform what my family referred to as “Toilet Paper Ninja” after the popular video game Fruit Ninja. The pilots throw huge swaths of toilet paper in the air and then slice it with their aircraft using bold moves. One of the best features of the Aerodome is how close you are to the airplanes and many of the air pilots stay with their aircraft after the show so that you can ask questions and take photos.
The Saturday “History of Flight” show is geared to history buffs but children will still look to the sky in amazement as these aircraft do carefully choreographed performances. Be forewarned though that all air shows are subject to cancellation due to inclement or windy weather. This can sometimes happen at the last minute as the pilots determine that the wind speeds are too dangerous for these delicate aircraft so it’s best to call beforehand. Rain checks are issued if less than half of the air show is performed and can be used indefinitely. Benches are available to view the shows and there is no reserved seating. The air shows run through Oct. 20 so if you can’t make it there this summer, fall is a good time to visit as you’ll get the added bonus of viewing fall foliage on the ride up.
On one of the weekends we went the air show was cancelled but we still had a great time. We took a ride in a 1927 Ford, stopped at all the antique aircraft and vehicles on display including a perfect replica of the Spirit of St. Louis that was flown by Charles Lindbergh from New York to Paris, and walked the grounds., and took in the on-site museum.
For the truly adventurous in spirit, they also offer biplane rides for 15 minutes (up to four passengers) in a 1929 open-cockpit New Standard D-25 for $100 per person.
“I think the Aerodome is a great place for families to visit,” says Stew Somerville, the Aerodome’s airshow and events manager. “Perhaps the single best reason is it enables parents to interact with their children while experiencing a living history lesson. In this age of digital everything it is quite special to see the past come back to life without the aid of the click of a mouse.”
Throw in some cotton candy, Sno-Kones and ice cream available at the snack shop on weekends and I had a happy crew. If you want to eat lunch prior to the show, there are shaded picnic tables available as well as on-site kid-friendly foods such as hot dogs, hamburgers, veggie burgers and chicken sandwiches. The town of Rhinebeck also has some wonderful restaurants nearby and it is worth a stop just to explore the cute stores and boutiques.
Stacey Pfeffer is a writer and editor based in Chappaqua.
Old Rhinebeck Aerodome
9 Norton Road, Red Hook, N.Y.
Admission: Air Show and Museum (note: They are not sold separately)
Weekends: Adults $25, ages 6-17 $12,
free for ages 5 and under
Weekdays: (No flights but the museum is open from 10 a.m.- 5 p.m.) Adults: $12, ages 6-17 $8, free for ages 5 and under
Strollers are permitted.