Rhinebeck Aerodrome Museum and Airshows were established in 1993 as 501 (c) (3) non-profit organizations in order to continue Cole Palen’s legacy and ensure the long-term protection and survival of his collection. The Aerodrome’s mission is to obtain, restore, maintain and display Pioneer, World War I and Lindbergh era aircraft, vehicles, related equipment, documents, memorabilia and artifacts of historical significance while seeking to educate the public regarding the historical significance of its collection and the scientific and technological advancements that it represents.
Ken Cassens (Director of Aircraft Maintenance) was hired directly by Cole Palen, and worked to finish and test fly the last plane Cole built and had the chance to see fly… the Fokker D.VII. Ken is well-known for his high quality work and was awarded the prestigious honor of winning “Best Homebuilt” for his Starduster II at the EAA’s AirVenture Fly-in at Oshkosh, WI. His lifetime career in aviation started when he soloed at age 16 in 1960. He served with the ANG as a flight engineer aboard C97s and flew with the airlines for many years as well.
In addition to maintaining the majority of the Aerodrome’s airshow aircraft, Ken also maintains and flies the New Standard D-25 rides plane, in which he has logged over 1,000 hours and has provided an estimated 10,000 rides. He was also instrumental in the restoration of the collection’s Nieuport 11 and Curtiss Jenny.
Ken is currently working to complete the Aerodrome’s Spirit of St. Louis reproduction. He spent several years researching documents and photos from the Ryan Aeronautical Archives and was invited by the staff of the National Air and Space Museum to climb aboard a cherry–picker to gain access to the cockpit of the original Spirit in order to take measurements for the Aerodrome’s example. In 2000, Peter Jakab, Curator for the National Air and Space Museum, handed Ken three rare instruments on behalf of the Smithsonian to use in the Aerodrome’s Spirit.
Carol Harklerode (Aerodrome Office Manager) has worked at the Aerodrome for 10 years and has been office manager for the past 6 years. She is responsible for handling day to day business, phone calls, group tour planning, staff, and works directly with the Museum and Airshows boards. She also helps with Aerodrome social media, the newsletter, memberships and fundraising efforts. In her free time she volunteers at the Aerodrome doing everything from marching in parades, running the fashion show and cleaning spark plugs in the shop.
Outside of the Aerodrome Carol enjoys spending time with her nephews, bird watching, making birdhouses, fishing, traveling and visiting lighthouses.
Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome Trustees
Michael DiGiacomio (President) was born in 1976 in Kingston N.Y. and grew up in New Paltz N.Y. He attended High School there, and during his younger years spent many hours building model aircraft and even won third place at the national meet for Radio controlled gliders. In addition to model aircraft, Michael also spent many hours volunteering working on full-scale aircraft at Stanton airport in New Paltz. He attended college at SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry College in Syracuse N.Y. where he earned a bachelors degree in 1999. Michael now owns a small business named Mike’s Tree Service and works in Dutchess County N.Y. He has been married to his wife JoAnn since 2004 and has two children, Anson & Everett. Michael’s wife also volunteers at the Aerodrome, mostly in the gift shop.
Michael attended his first airshow at Old Rhinebeck as a child and went flying the first time there when he was about 12 in a white cub on a summer evening. He has been actively volunteering since 2001 and started cutting the grass and then helping with the airshows. He enjoys helping with restorations most. Michael has been a member of the museum board of directors since 2007 and has held the position of Secretary, Vice President and now President. Michael looks forward to pursuing Cole Palen’s dream, and thanks you for supporting Old Rhinebeck!
Warren Batson grew up on Long Island, within a few miles of some major airports, and in the direct flight path to the North-South runway of Republic airfield. Because of all the full-scale aircraft exposure, Warren’s eyes always gravitated to model aircraft when they were available. He started building at age 8 and progressed through many rubber band-powered Guillow’s kits and eventually to radio-controlled aircraft at age 11.
Warren’s first exposure to the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome came from seeing coverage in R/C Modeler magazine of an event called the Old Rhinebeck Jamboree, hosted by the Mid-Hudson R/C Society. At that time, in the early 70’s this was one of the largest RC events in the Northeast, if not the country, and Warren made the 150-mile trip from Long Island to Rhinebeck where he met Cole Palen. Years later, after graduating from college, Warren moved to the area, joined the Mid- Hudson R/C club and become very involved in the running of the Old Rhinebeck Jamboree event.
Mike Fisher was born in Rhinebeck and grew up in Red Hook. His first encounter with the Aerodrome was in the very early days when his Den Mother took her Cub Scouts for a visit and sank her station wagon up to the frame in the runway mud. Somewhat later a chance encounter with the late Gordon Bainbridge brought him back for a visit and he was hooked. Mike interested his father and two brothers and soon the family was taking lessons and rebuilding Cubs and Champs. In addition to the Aerodrome, Mike’s other passion was radio and he worked at several Hudson Valley stations starting at the age of 14. This naturally led to a stint announcing ORA Airshows that lasted 25 years. He holds degrees in media from Syracuse University and The New School for Social Research. Following a brief career in radio and cable television, Mike went into college teaching and just retired after 40 years as a Professor and Division Chair. He recently returned to the Aerodrome as a Museum Board of Trustees member and fill-in announcer. Mike also sits on the boards of the Museum at Bethel Woods, at the site of the original Woodstock concert, and WJFF/Radio Catskill. He lives with his wife, Karen, in western Sullivan County, NY.
Clay Hammond took his first airplane ride when he was just five weeks old, sitting on his mom’s lap in the family J-3 Cub flying out of Old Rhinebeck. A second generation Aerodrome devotee, Clay grew up at ORA as a boy while his parents worked for Cole Palen. He began flying vintage aircraft at an early age and is now a regular pilot at the Aerodrome. A professional pilot and aviation salesman by trade, he has specialized in aircraft sales, ferry and delivery of aircraft new and old for going on fifteen years now, including representing new Piper, Cessna, CubCrafters and Diamond aircraft. He has over 20 trans-continental adventures under his belt and once flew a YMF-5 WACO from Los Angeles to Atlanta in only two days, just to see what it was like to fly a Bendix Race. Clay would say he is the worst kind of aircraft mechanic…the un-licensed son of an IA, quite happy to turn wrenches on anything but unable to sign any of it off! When asked what he felt most inspired by during his years at Old Rhinebeck, his answer was as follows: “Cole Palen had a natural ability to empower others to do great things. His enthusiasm for vintage aircraft preservation was infectious and his special brand of “keep ’em flying” was central in kick starting the vintage aviation restoration movement. For close to sixty years now, countless owners and restorers all over the world have been inspired by his original foresight. On another front, Cole had an uncanny knack for serving the medicine with a spoonful of sugar. Since practically the beginning audiences have enjoyed weekend airshows with colorful characters, zany antics, and a comical story line that has become legendary, but in the process they receive an education that simply isn’t taught to the general masses anywhere else. Cole’s genius was that many came away entertained and didn’t even know they had been to school, while others fully appreciated the history they were seeing and got a great show to boot. It was a win-win. Preservation, education and teaching historical awareness through entertainment remains a cornerstone of the Aerodrome experience, and it is my hope that I can help to ensure this for decades to come.
H. Knick Staley is a native son whose family has lived in Rhinebeck for six generations. His father, Homer Knickerbocker Staley Sr., brokered the sale of the farm to Cole Palen that became the Aerodrome in 1959. His personal involvement dates back to 1973 – 1980 when young Knick, as a 15-year member of the Rhinebeck – Red Hook Jaycees and director of the District and Regional New York State Jaycees, staffed and helped manage the concession stand at the Aerodrome for Cole and Rita Palen. His return to volunteer at the Aerodrome during the fall of 2011 was most welcome.
“Knick” Staley is also a member of the Rhinebeck area Chamber of Commerce, past president of the Rhinebeck Rotary Club and served as president of both the Dutchess County Board of Realtors and Columbia/ Northern Dutchess Multiple Listing Service. Knick was named Realtor of the year in 2009. He served on the Rhinebeck Town Council 1992-1996 and is treasurer for the Rhinebeck Republican Committee. Mr. Staley is a U.S. Army veteran and retired from IBM after 30 years of service in 1993.