Era 2 – Flavio Madariaga and EAA Chapter One

 

After the original Riverside Airport was washed away in the flood of 1938, the few pilots who stayed on moved their airplanes a few hundred yards downstream, where a leftover WPA toolshed provided some shelter, and is now incorporated into Flabob’s hangar one. With World War II looming, a Civil Air Patrol Squadron was established there.

In 1943, the little strip was bought by Flavio Madariaga and his partner, Bob Bogen, thus beginning the second era of the airport.  Madariaga was a jack-of-all-trades, a pilot, and a machinist who could make anything.  He and his partner, Bob Bogen, an aeronautical engineer, owned a machine shop in Los Angeles.  Foreseeing the difficulty of continuing this kind of business in Los Angeles as population and land values soared, Madariaga and Bogen looked for a place further out with room for an airstrip to enable them to make aerial delivery of supplies and parts, and to bring in customers.  They drew a fifty-mile circle from Los Angeles City Hall, and looked at a number of possible places. According to Flabob legend, they rejected many possible strips as too scenic and therefore likely to become densely settled.  They settled on the little airstrip adjoining the village of Rubidoux, close to the City of Riverside.  Madariaga moved there with his family.  He had done a lot of work for the movie studios, such as making the “vines” on which Tarzan swung, and from one of the studios he “scrounged” a circus tent which was pitched under a tree and became the family home.  Meals were on a picnic table under the tree, and the still-roaming cows helped themselves to any tasty bits they found on the table.  The tent is long gone, but the tree is still there and so were the cows, until a developer ran them off a couple of years ago.

Madariaga was a world-class “scrounger” who could make or build just about anything, and Flabob airport is literally the product of his mind and hands.  He was quick to take advantage of opportunities when they offered.  After the war, he bought a surplus trainer and was flying it back to Flabob over the desert area where General Patton had trained his tank corps.  He saw a group of men near stacks of wood, and landed to inquire. He learned that the men had bought as surplus the crates in which Patton’s tanks had been delivered.  The crates had been made of one-inch oak and were, to Madariaga’s mind, just what he needed to build sturdy hangars at the airport.  All his money had been spent on the plane, so he offered it to the crate owners if they would deliver the wood to the airport.  The men said that, not knowing how to fly, they had no use for an airplane, but the resourceful Madariaga threw in flying lessons and the deal was done.  The huge pile of wood gradually became hangars and structures at the airport, so hard that it was necessary to drill holes to start nails.

Other buildings came from surplus at March Field, Madariaga explaining that his donkey Napoleon and some chickens borrowed from the neighbors made him a “farmer” and thus eligible for such surplus structures.  The airport was still called simply “Riverside” airport, until emergency crews responding to a crash at Riverside Arlington airport came to it by mistake.  (Or maybe it was the other way around: opinions differ.)  Flavio Madariaga and Bob Bogen then combined the first letters of their first names to come up with “Fla Bob.” In the earliest directories, it was “Fla Bob,” then it became “Fla-Bob,” then “FlaBob,” and now the airport is known throughout the world simply as “Flabob.”

Our silly little joke is that we are glad Mrs. Madariaga was not fond of the name “James.”  Think about it, it will come to you.

In the postwar years, Flabob became an incubator for grassroots aviation.  Movie pilot Frank Tallman got his start there converting war surplus transports for civilian use.  Aerobatic great Art Scholl started at Flabob, gaining his title “Professor” from his work teaching aviation machining on the field for San Bernardino Valley College.  Women’s Aerobatic champion Margaret Ritchie flew out of Flabob.  The airstrip was a hotbed of original aircraft design, including pioneer designers Ray Stits, Ed Marquart, and Lou Stolp.  The Applebys built First World War replica aircraft, and Bill Turner’s Repeat Aircraft built replicas of such Golden Air racers as Miss Los Angeles, the de Havilland Comet, the Roscoe Turner Meteor, the Pobjoy Special, and several GeeBees. Clayton Stephens built the Stephens Akro, the first of the midwing monoplane designs whose descendants dominate aerobatic competition today.  Lou Stolp’s Starduster line had its greatest years at Flabob.  Flabob witnessed the flights of what was at the time the world’s smallest airplane, by Ray Stits, the first solar-powered airplane (Larry Mauro’s Solar Riser), and the restored antiques and the homebuilts of many aviation enthusiasts.

In 1953, shortly after the founding of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), founder Paul Poberezny invited Ray Stits to join, and Stits replied that he liked the organization but thought Milwaukee (Poberezny’s home and first EAA HQ) was a bit far to go for meetings, and so Ray asked if he could organize a chapter.  The EAA bylaws were soon amended to permit chapters and Ray founded EAA Chapter One, the mother of all the EAA chapters around the world.

EAA Chapter One flourishes at Flabob and is putting the finishing touches on its new hangar and meeting place.  Flabob is known throughout the world as the epitome of the “little guy’s” grassroots airfield, home to antiques and classics, homebuilts, and ordinary airplanes which are the pampered pride of flying families.  After the deaths of founders Bob Bogen and Flavio Madariaga, the future of Flabob was in doubt.  The Madariaga and Bogen families continued to have a sentimental desire to preserve the dream, but the economics of a small airport were highly unrewarding.  With no assurance that Flabob could continue to be an airport, many pilots drifted away to other airports with more secure outlooks, thereby further jeopardizing the chances for survival.

YouTube has some fascinating footage of a Chapter One Open House from long, long ago. Our guess is late 50s or early 60s. If you can date this for us, please let us hear from you.

 

Trivia

In the mid-70s, many scenes from The Amazing Howard Hughes (Tommy Lee Jones’ first big role) were filmed at Flabob. In one of them, Howard Hughes is producing Hell’s Angels, and his stunt pilots refuse to do a scene he has in mind because it’s too dangerous. Hughes, with the ink drying on his private pilot license, says he will do it himself, whereupon the stunt pilots ask him to sign their checks before he goes up, please.  The plot calls for Hughes to lose control of his ship and fly it through a barn.  So, down at the Southwest corner of Flabob, the set people built a ramshackle barn out of poles and balsa wood.  Before it was demolished by airplane (flown by Jim Lasley, restorer, aerobatic pilot who did a clown act in a Taylorcraft rigged to shed an aileron, and concluded by landing on a minivan, the “world’s smallest airport”), Flavio Madariaga recognized a photo op.  He assembled a Jenny, a decrepit Model T Ford truck, two horses, and one of his beautiful daughters, and took their picture in front of the structure.  Not before, however, he had mounted a sign on it reading “FLABOB AIR TERMINAL and MASSAGE PARLOR.” Here is the photo:


The late famed aviation cartoonist Bob Stevens saw the photo, and it inspired this cartoon:

We think the vulture is a nice touch. The caption at lower left reads “No kiddin’, folks, there is such a place.” You betcha.

It usually takes the fun out of a joke to explain it, but you are so much younger than we that you may not know that the adjective “one-horse” is old-timey slang for “really small,” as in “one-horse town.”

 

Reminiscences of Flabob Back in the Day

We recently enjoyed some correspondence with a gentleman who lived near Flabob as a kid in the 50s and 60s, and he shared some memories with us.  We liked them so much we thought you would as well.

I know the house at the end of Carol Way.  It used to be owned by a guy named Funk. He used to taxi his Bellanca off the end of the runway and over to his house to work on it.  Pretty cool stuff to a kid!!!  My parents bought the house on Capary Road in 1955.  In 1964, we moved to 5381 Carol Way.  This house was originally built in 1901 and was moved onto the parcel from another site (where I don’t know).  Anyway, the house was originally a “Craftsman” style house which my dad liked.  The house had the most beautiful fireplace surround of a deep green ceramic tile.  The exterior was finished with wood.  [Ed Note, now powder-blue stucco.]  Originally, there was a really big porch on the front of the house.  There were French doors leading to the porch just to the right of the front door.  In 1967, a contractor was hired to remove the French doors and build another bedroom, thus eliminating the front porch.  Across the street from the house you own lived Walker Fordyce.  His dad was the Honda dealer owner (Skip Fordyce Honda).  I could tell you more about the neighbors, but it gets pretty boring from there.  Enough about the house.  I remember Flavio’s house and loved the Spanish architecture.  It had that really neat plastered fence which I found interesting.  I was sad to see it was demolished the last time I visited the old neighborhood.  [Ed. Note: Flavio’s house was at the corner of 42nd and Wallace and stood abandoned for many years.  When the Wathen Foundation bought Flabob in 2000, it was hoped that it could be renovated; but careful inspection showed that it was damaged beyond repair by water intrusion over the years.]  My typical Saturday would go something like this.  I would leave home about 7:00am.  There was a gap between the fence and garage of the people across the street, which I would use as a short cut.  This emptied out at the “runup” end of the runway where a sand pit was located.  I would always check out the sand pit, because someone had thrown an airplane part in it and, of course, I found it.  It sat in my room for quite some time before my mom disposed of it.  Anyway, I would first stop by Daniels Aviation to see what was going on.  I loved watching the workers doing their job and remember the gas pump guy whose name was Dennis Day of all things.  After that, I would stop by a little building located between Art Scholl’s and Daniels Aviation. That was Jim Patterson’s business which was called Jan Tech.  Jim’s dad (a machinist) would always invite me in to have a cup of coffee.  Jim was an engineer and his dad had the skill to build whatever Jim designed.  Jim had an Ercoupe tied down next to the old gas pumps.  I would go flying with him in exchange for sweeping up and other odd jobs.  After a little coffee and perhaps sweeping duties, I would head back out onto the tarmac to see what else was going on.  I usually headed over to Floyd Grieve’s hangar and talked airplanes with his kids, Mark and Scott.  After a little play time, I would head over to Ed Marquardt’s place to see what was up.  I would sort buckets of nuts, bolts, washers and the like for him.  After I got bored sorting, I’d head over to Ray Stit’s place.  I kinda got to know his boys but didn’t hang out that much.  About mid-day, I’d head back over to Art Scholl’s place.  I’d sweep his hangar from time to time. Mac Riley (Art’s employee) liked me, so we would talk while Mac was working on the Cub that Art used to practice his aerobatics.  I loved Art’s midget race plane “Miss San Bernardino” and would daydream about flying it.  I remember one time, Mac and I headed down to the far end of the runway to take moving pictures of Art strafing the runway in Miss San Bernardino. Art was only about 5 feet off the ground, and Mac and I both jumped out of the way when Art passed overhead.

[When we got this we wrote back:]  Your interest in Margaret Ritchie and your mention of Miss San Bernardino remind me of the story I have pieced together of the origin of the Stephens Akro, the father of all the modern midwing champion aerobatic airplanes.  As I was told it, Margaret learned that her archrival, Mary Gaffaney, was getting a Pitts, the second one after Betty Skelton’s L’il Stinker, and realized that her clipwing T-Craft would simply not be competitive.  Margaret and her husband, I think named Ed, talked to Ed Allenbaugh, who had built a number of small racers and was then at Flabob working on a roadable automobile.  One of the ideas that came from this led them to ask Art Scholl if he thought Miss San Bernardino would make a good competitive aerobatic airplane.  He said it was too small, not enough leverage as it was optimized for speed, but that a slightly scaled-up version would be a real possibility.  With Art’s cooperation, the two Eds designed an aerobat based on Miss San Bernardino. They needed someone to build it and partnered with Clayton Stephens to do this.  Clayton really had little to do with the design, except for structural details.  However, when Allenbaugh died of a heart attack while flying Flavio’s Cub (which landed itself), Clayton took over the project and named it after himself.  He told me that he spelled “Akro” with a “K” “just to be aggravating.”

[To which our correspondent replied:]  I wasn’t aware of the particulars of how Margaret got her new plane.  I thought it was kinda strange-looking when I saw it.  And I haven’t heard the name Ed Allenbaugh in so long.  I purchased a propeller that was used on World War II drone aircraft from Ed.  I mowed his HUGE yard for two months to earn it.  I eventually gave it to a friend of mine, and it now hangs in a hanger at Chino airport.  I recall Ed and I sitting on his porch and just talking airplanes after I got done mowing.  He was a very nice man.  By the way, I think Margaret was killed in that plane, if memory serves correctly.  I believe she spun into the ground at about 180 mph while practicing over the riverbed.  I think I heard someone say she “blacked out.”  I remember when Margaret’s husband had help from Mac Riley and crew installing the oil inverter on the Taylor Craft.  I thought that orange with black stripes was the coolest paint job ever !!!

I also remember when Art received his Chipmunk.  I think it was about 1963.  They took it down to nothing, and am proud to say I helped Mac Riley wet-sand the wings.  I recall sanding at that young age was very hard work.  Art learned of a new maneuver he wanted to try with the Chipmunk called the Lamsavak (spelling).  [Ed. Note: Lomcevak, Czech for headache.]  I remember him working and working on that one.  I still recall one day after he landed, saying he had finally done it right.  I have yet to see anyone perform that maneuver exactly the way he did it.

You may also note some of the celebrities that used to fly into Flabob.  Bob Herendeen was an often visitor, as was Clete Roberts, the news guy.  Clete had the most beautiful PT-19.  I was excited to see him fly in, as I was allowed to clean his tiny windshield.  I got excited at the smallest things back then.  One of my most excited memories was one day when I was sweeping out Floyd Grieve’s hanger.  Everyone at the airport was preparing for an air show the following day.  Someone in the hanger started shouting they were all out of prop wash and needed some in a hurry.  They gave me a 5-gallon bucket to fetch some.  I hit every hangar on the field looking for the much-needed prop wash.  One guy said he had some but wanted to know how much I needed.  I looked down at the 5-gallon bucket and was unsure.  So I ran all the way back to Floyd’s hanger to ask how much they needed.  After all was said and done — and I found out they were playing a gag on me — I still thought it exciting that they would send me on an important errand.  It’s funny how writing these emails has these memories flooding back.  I haven’t thought of these things in years.
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If you are a Flabob old-timer, we would love to hear your stories
and also to borrow any old snapshots or home movies.

 

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