The Thrill of the Hill



Time Flies When You’re Having Fun

That old comment about time going by fast may be cliché, but it’s true. And it’s especially true when you’re at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in Rhinebeck, NY, where several fun-filled days seem to whirl by so fast, you feel like you’re no sooner greeting familiar faces hello than you are wishing them a safe drive back home. So it goes at the Model Airplane Show at the Aerodrome, where you have nothing but a spectacular runway and pleasant smiles to start your every day, and the only bad part is the whole thing just doesn’t last long enough.

This year, members of the model airplane club I belong to—the Jersey Coast Sport Fliers (JCSF) did as they—and hundreds of other clubs and radio-control enthusiasts do every September—pack their trailers and vans to the gills and head on over. There, they become captivated by the whimsical realism of days gone by, as only the Rhinebeck Aerodrome can do so well.

Within its hangars sit actual WWI-era planes and wing-warping aircraft, and down its long runway land Averos and other spectacular planes.  Add to that the Aerodrome officials who dress in vintage fashion and an occasional spotting of an old-time automobile, and one is instantly transported to another time. Greenery surrounds you. What better place to fly your model Fokker, Jenny or Taube?


Planes, 2009 at Rhinebeck

Planes, 2009 at Rhinebeck



Sunday’s noontime airshow consisted of the amazing flights of the Aerodrome’s planes, where the likes of wing-warping aircraft lifted off the ground, if only for a moment, and barnstorming thrills also took place. Of course there was ribbon-cutting fun as a Great Lakes plane tried to get the most cuts from the falling stream of paper, the ladies vintage fashion show, and the adventures of Trudy Truelove and the evil Baron running about the field. Many club members also flew their models as part of an afternoon show; seeing their planes as well as the others against the blue sky, some trailing smoke, was a wonderful sight.


Airshow at Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, 2009
Airshow at Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, 2009

The desire to reach for the sky runs deep in our human psyche.  ~Cesar Pelli, Argentine Architect


The Hill, or Life in the Woods

And while the spectators head home and some pilots stay at nearby hotels, there are several of us who prefer to let the spirit of the Rhinebeck Aerodrome linger on. Rather than return to cable TV, it’s the famed “top of the hill” where we’ve returned to for decades after a day of flying. There, the sky is filled with stars and satellites, and woods surround us. 

It’s where we go, well . . .  because we don’t want to go.

View from the Top of the Hill
View from the Top of the Hill

You see, there’s a welcome solitude at the top of that hill, where after a day of loops and landings, the fun of Rhinebeck continues. Being up there is simply an extension of the very essence of the Aerodrome itself—like the Aerodrome, it too has a history of friends, fun, nostalgia, and imagination. It’s there where we fire up our little portable grills as well as great conversation. We reflect on Rhinebeck through the years—everything from memories of Cole Palen, founder and curator of New York’s Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, to the earlier afternoon’s events—passing the spirit of it all to others who want to hear the memories again, or learn about them for the first time. 

It’s where we are taken from flying with friends during the day to getting to know them all over again as the night goes on—even after not seeing some for a year. Stories are told, lives are shared, new changes unfold and most of all, laughter echoes through the trees. It’s where we get away from Blackberry’s, and feel no guilt for abandoning CNN or the lawn back home. All that matters—and all we want to matter—is the top of the hill and simply being.

People make their way up that hill gradually throughout the evening, fresh faces semi-visible only by the flicker of a campfire, so they too, can be part of the fun that so many others have been drawn to for decades. This year, there was (again) Poncho Man and  Alien Man, and new this year: The Distractor as well as The Jumper. You’d have to be there to know.

One measure of friendship consists not in the number of things friends can discuss, but in the number of things they need no longer mention.  —Clifton Fadiman, American Radio Host, Author

From fashion (shirts with statements and socks with toes) to some unexpected memorable moments, it’s a place where fun is had and never forgotten. And it’s all true to the spirit of Rhinebeck: filling up on a good dose of nostalgia and creating new memories, all with—like at the bottom of that hill—a backdrop of music and yes, entertainment. (Self-created, admittedly, but entertainment nonetheless). 

Alien Man
Alien Man

Trees Over TVs

Up there, we prefer to get wrapped up in the stars and each other’s presence, rather than a hotel blanket.  We prefer trees over TVs. We dub areas within a canopy, “The Cozy Alcove Cafe” (complete with some leaking patches in overhead spots, hot dogs and LED lanterns) and tell lots of jokes (some hokey puns, others to make you blush). Daring moves are made between canopies as little electric planes dart about them, much to the cheering of others. We roast marshmallows—and each other—pointing out one another’s unusual, but still likable quirks. Corn becomes funny. “Imagine if” scenarios are made up. There are smiles. Lots of them.

It’s really that simple. Being at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome for this particular show may only last a few days. But it’s a few days where the day starts with the roar of an engine and extends into the evening with roars of laughter. In the end, your heart is a little lighter and your mood better, all because of the flying, the camaraderie, the spirit and yes, that hill. It gets a hold of you and stays with you.

While packing, I heard someone shout, “364 days left ‘til Rhinebeck!” That’s how excited people are to arrive, and how much they don’t want to leave.

I’m counting the days.   

Sky over the Rhinebeck Aerodrome
Sky over the Rhinebeck Aerodrome

Jennifer Lilley, 35, wants to share: “Never stop being a kid. Never stop feeling and seeing and being excited with great things like air and engines and sounds of sunlight within you. Wear your little mask if you must to protect you from the world but if you let that kid disappear you are grown up and you are dead.” — Richard Bach, Author, “Nothing by Chance” 1963

© Jennifer Lilley and Jen Lilley’s Thought Buffet, 2009.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jennifer Lilley and Jen Lilley’s Thought Buffet with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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