Flabob, Back to Square One

By John D Lyon

Flabob Airport was founded as Riverside Airport in 1925, about 200 yards east of its present location, on the West bank of the Santa Ana River. Until 1938 it was run by Roman Warren, a cowboy-turned-barnstormer who settled down in Riverside, and was the principal commercial airport for Riverside until gradually eclipsed by Arlington Airport (now Riverside Municipal) in the '30s and '40s.

   In 1938 the great California floods washed away a portion of the airport, and Warren quit as manager after a lease dispute. Surviving tenants moved further away from the river, clearing a strip near an abandoned WPA tool shed, which they used as a hangar and which remains in use as Hangar 1. The strip was active during the war as a Civil Air Patrol base.

   In 1943 the property was purchased by Bob Bogen, an aeronautical engineer, and Flavio Madariaga, his partner in an aeronautical job shop in Los Angeles. Madariaga convinced Bogen that escalating land values would make it too expensive to run a machine shop in Los Angeles and, besides, he had always wanted an airport.

In the late 1940s emergency equipment responding to a crash at Arlington erroneously came to "Riverside" airport, and Bogen and Madariaga decided to change its name to Fla Bob—the first syllables of their first names—to save any further mixups. As time went by, the spelling mutated from Fla Bob to Fla-Bob, then FlaBob, as iut is now is known. Madariaga, one of the great scroungers, built most of the airport from "recycled" materials, including oak from the crates used to ship General Patton's tanks to Arizona in 1942, old steam pipe which was welded into roof trusses, and so on.

   The airport became legendary as a haven for homebuilders, restorers and other eccentrics. Frank Tallman got his commercial start at Flabob and "Professor" Art Scholl earned his title by teaching machining at Flabob for San Bernardino Valley College during intervals between air shows and movie work. Designers and builders Ray Stits, Ed Marquart, Lou Stolp, and Clayton Stephens did their best work at Flabob, and Stits, Marquart, and Stephens may still be seen there (2004). Jim and Zona Appleby, and Mac Riley, did much to create the WW1 replica movement with their work there The first solar-powered airplane flew at Flabob when FAA frowned on its flying at Chino. EAA Chapter One flourishes there, as does Vintage Aircraft Association Chapter 33.

   In 2000 the airport was purchased by the non-profit Thomas W Wathen Foundation, devoted to historic preservation and to aviation education, especially of young people. Extensive repaving, new hangars, and other improvements support an extensive program of Air Academies, after-school programs, an airplane rebuilding program for youngsters, and an active Young Eagles program.

For additional info, see Flabob Web site