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.
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.
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.”