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Jurupa History Corner
"A Look Back"
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 had built his first airplane from scratch as a teenager, and became an airport manager in Oklahoma. During WWII, Flavio 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 was still there and so were the cows, until a developer cut down the tree and ran the cows off a few 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.”
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. Jim and Zona Appleby 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 hundreds of EAA chapters around the world.
EAA Chapter One flourishes at Flabob. 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.
Article and photo courtesy of Flabob Airport