RHINEBECK, N.Y. - The first time Dan Taylor's parents took him to the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, in Upstate
New York, he was 10 and infatuated with airplanes.
The love affair was shaped by 1960s movies such as The
Blue Max, about World War I fighter pilots, and Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, about an airplane
Now, Taylor lives out his flying fantasies as a pilot
in the aerodrome's weekend air shows that run from June through October. He and the other pilots fly vintage planes and replicas,
wear period clothing, and engage in endearingly corny narratives.
"You see the old motorcycle or Model T Ford or the original
airplane or replica with original engine," Taylor, 44, said. "It's moving, it's making noise, you can smell the castor oil
from the rotary engine, you can hear the sounds of the engine, you can close your eyes and pretend it's like World War I all
The aerodrome, both museum and flying circus, was the
creation of Cole Palen, a mechanically inclined aviation enthusiast who in 1951 spent his life savings on a bunch of World
War I-era planes. Palen died in 1993, and his legacy is carried on at the aerodrome, where the staff also researches and restores
or builds airplanes.
"You have to be a little bit of a historian to appreciate
the materials and the techniques they used," pilot Bill King said of the pilots and builders of the past, as he prepared to
gas up a reproduced World War I-era Albatros D.Va before a recent show.
The aerodrome is in New York's Hudson River Valley,
a popular spring-through-autumn destination for travelers. There are cruises on the Hudson River, fruit-picking at small farms
throughout the area, and the mansions and estates of the rich and famous to visit.
The aerodrome's Saturday shows have a "History of Flight"
theme, while Sunday shows feature World War I and barnstorming aircraft, along with the repeated kidnapping of the hapless
Trudy Trulove by the evil Black Baron of Rhinebeck.
"It's live theater with airplanes," air-show coordinator
Jim Hare said.
The air shows also use antique automobiles and motorcycles.
A boxcar, circa 1916, serves as a meeting place for spectators interested in performing in a historical fashion show. Pilots
and crew zip around the airfield on bicycles. Airplanes not used in the shows, including replicas of designs by the Wright
brothers, stand in nearby hangars.
Many of the airplanes have complicated controls that
require the pilots to use their hands, feet and sometimes their entire bodies as they fly.
"I have a new-found respect for a lot of the early pioneer
pilots," Taylor said. "A lot of them were learning the trade as they went along. They were taking great risks, and many paid
with their lives."
During one air show, Taylor piloted a fragile-looking
1911 Curtiss Pusher reproduction down the runway, visibly leaning from side to side to work a wing mechanism that controls
the rolling movement as the airplane briefly rose into the air.
"I tell you what, that was worth the price of admission,"
spectator Mike Zebley said to his brother as they watched Taylor take the Curtiss Pusher airborne.
Most Sunday shows include an appearance by Stanley
Segalla as the "Flying Farmer," in a routine he's been doing for more than 30 years. Playing the part of a neighboring farmer
who has "never flown alone," Segalla, 78, pilots his bright yellow Piper PA-11 in backward circles and other tricks, including
a finale where the plane appears to have run out of gas.
Segalla, who signs autographs after his routine,
has a simple reason why he's still flying: "People like my act."
Dick and Sandi Crawford were last at the aerodrome in
1967, just after they were married.
"It's just as good, probably better," Crawford, 62,
said recently as he displayed a postcard of a 1917 Curtiss JN-4H "Jenny," which he planned to send to his daughter of the
same name, a U.S. Army captain stationed in Germany.
Crawford, of Verona, N.J., said he enjoyed the aerodrome
because "I believe in saving our history."