06 Jan Autumn at Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome
When the ruby, auburn, gold, orange, and yellow tree bursts rise from the ground at Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, something assuredly will fall from the sky on the October weekend its dubs its “pumpkin bombing and fall festival” event, which signaled the beginning of autumn and the end to its 2013 season.
As the crowd claimed the bench-type seats at the start of its “History of Flight” air show, the brown and gold blankets of leaves beneath them emitted the sweet scent of seasonal decay.
With a ritual wave of the black and white checkered flag from the umbrella-topped “control tower,” Al Loncton, the day’s announcer, marked that show’s beginning.
The clouds, like wrappings on a package, peeled back, revealing the still-warm day’s gentle-blue contents, toward which the first aerial player, as confirmed by the throaty gulp of its Anzani engine, would strive.
Whipped by its propeller wash, pilot Herb Gregory centered the Bleriot XI’s rudder, while Mike DiGiacomio and Steven Lopresti dug into the turf with their heels, clinging to its rear fuselage to restrain it from taxiing. Despite its early serial number (56) and old centenarian-plus-four age (104 for the math-challenged), this mostly original, second-oldest still-flying English Channel hopper still had enough fight in it to win-and it did, rolling past the audience while releasing a belch or two.
A brief hop, now from the north, was followed by a virtually vertical descent on to the grass-cushioning field, proving that the old bird could still fly.
Of equal vintage (give or take a year or two), the Curtiss Model D walked, like a model strutting its yellow frock, down the runway (at least the wing-walkers engaged in the legged action) and turned to the spectators to demonstrate its unconventional flight surface actuation methods. Of course, at this point in aviation history (1911) standards had yet to be established.
And, if the manicured field could have been considered the surface of the sea, it could have supported the floating Hanriot, with its mahogany, racing skiff-resembling hull/fuselage, the third in the aerodrome’s pioneer parade.
Long airborne before the airplane, the pilot’s scarf waved behind him, bathed by the propeller’s slipstream, which subsequently provided the necessary lift to its monowings to enable it to mimic the preceding Bleriot’s brief aerial arc, its throttle-replacing blip switch feeding or starving its engine of fuel. Equally devoid of brakes, it used the field’s south hill as an innovative substitute.
If the Andes Mountains, instead of that hill, had loomed before the Caudron G.3’s rotary engine, which currently coughed to life, it would have carried the aircraft over them, as Caudron test pilot Adrienne Bolland successfully demonstrated in 1921.
Responding to its own incessant blips, the twin-tailed biplane taxied, turned, and tried, but a five-foot altitude was all the Andes it would traverse today, leaving the air saturated with the smell of burnt castor oil in its wake.
The day gave way to a duo-of World War I trainers, that is-the de Havilland DH.82A Tiger Moth flown by Dave Fox and the Fleet 16B piloted by Old Rhinebeck Air Show President Jose Millares.
The former served the Royal Air Force in England, while the latter performed the mirror-image function across the Atlantic for the RCAF in Canada as the Finch. Based on the Feet 10, the tandem-seat biplane evolved after military design input and was employed in the British Commonwealth Air Training Program.
Lavatories would be installed in later-generation aircraft, but pilots of the current two apparently relied for comfort on the aerial kind, releasing rolls of toilet paper toward which they dove in order to cut them with their engines. (It could only be wondered what else they released.)
Pilots passed from trainers such as these to the fighters in which they had hoped to attain victory for their respective countries, as two now passed into World War I skies: the Fokker D.VII and, following its tail, the Spad VII, their guttural engines determinedly propelling them aloft.
Sporting its almost razor-edged fuselage and square wings interconnected by slender, minimal-drag bracing struts, the former offered the epitome of German performance, climbing to 10,000 feet in less than ten minutes. Although it appeared in its greatest quantities in 1918, it did so too late, the sheer number of advanced Allied types proving too formidable for it to overcome.
One of those demonstrated its maneuverability now. Powered by an Hispano-Suiza engine and flown by almost all of the allies, the Spad VII, with its synchronized Vickers machine gun, was the most famous of the French fighters and, along with the Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a and Sopwith Camel, delivered the decisive blow to the Germans over their ever-retreating front.
Releasing smoke trails behind it as it looped through the sky, the D.VII virtually hung on its engine, but the Spad, close on its tail, seemed determined to bring it down-at least it would have almost a century ago during the Great War.
Deviating from its pre- and post-show passenger flights, Old Rhinebeck’s New Standard D-25-standardly accommodating four in its forward cockpit and considered the aerodrome’s “airliner”-arced skyward after the fighter pair had realighted with half the complement of people, although today, during the Halloween month of October, they appeared less-than-human. A goulish, glowing orange face and skeletal head peered at the audience, as the black fuselaged behemoth climbed over the field’s north end.
As the sun ripped the morning-long cloud quilt apart, orange bombs-generically known as “pumpkins” and “jack-o-lanterns”-cascaded through the cracks, as if dropped from a Vickers Vimy bomber over the Western Front, toward the green, gently slopping field. Bombarded with each pass, this no-man’s land absorbed each one’s silent explosion, which released an ooze of intestinal flesh.
Approaching the field’s south side, the New Standard sideslipped and briefly bounced on its left wheel before settling and disgorging the bomb-dropping gourds. Unmasked, they returned from Halloween skies as Carol Harklerod and Patrick Walker.
World War I yielded to the Golden Age of flight and Old Rhinebeck, ever an aerially historic reflection, did not let its mirror down today, as a trio from that era entered the stage.
If it had not been for the sound wresting for dominance with Al Loncton’s loud speaker-broadcast commentary, the first of them, the Curtiss CW-1 Junior, could have been mistaken for a glider, since it was developed from one.
And if the day’s spectators were in need of a bath after their dousing of castor oil, the fuselage of the second of them could have easily passed as a tub. Stubby and tubby, it belonged to the Aeronautical Corporation of America’s Aeronca C-3, a high-wing tail dragger powered by a horizontally opposed, two-cylinder, 36-hp E.113 piston engine, built during the 1930s as a light airplane intended for personal and flight instruction use. With an empty weight of little more than 550 pounds, it itself sported a glider reminiscent look.
The third out of the starting gate was the quintessential private aircraft and trainer, the Piper J-3 Cub. Based upon the Taylor E-2, the high-wing, tandem-seat type, sporting nakedly uncowled cylinder heads, was as bare bones as it came. Mainstay of World War II’s Civilian Pilot Training Program, it was built in several military versions, which varied little from the private ones, but whose performance, as expressed by one of its designations-“L-4 Grasshopper”-was accurately demonstrated today as Old Rhinebeck’s example virtually hopped off the grass in a near-vertical orientation. With such short take off and landing (STOL) capability, it was ideal for the medical evacuation role it played during the war, dropping in on any postage stamp sized field.
More like an airplane he wore than flew, the Piper Cub served as Stan Segalla’s partner in his Flying Farmer act at Old Rhinebeck for years.
It was an icon of general aviation, spit out of the factory in numbers exceeding 19,000.
Passing overhead as if the plug had been pulled on velocity, the trio, a virtual poster for Golden Age aviation, seemed suspended above the field. Indeed, the ribbon dropped form one of them-and intended as a target to be competitively cut-floated faster than the sputtering, winged opponents vying for it.
Landing and taxiing past the spectator-filled benches, the orange CW-1, gold C-3, and yellow J-3 reflected the autumn-colored trees lining the aerodrome, as the descending leaves, like those of the vintage airplanes, touched down for one of the season’s last landings.