Flabob Airport in Air and Space Magazine

The People and Planes of Flabob:  This California airport is hallowed ground for homebuilders and Hollywood stunt pilots alike.    

One of the most beautiful restorations hangared at Flabob is a 1928 Stearman C3B owned by Ron Alexander.   (Chad Slattery)

One of the most beautiful restorations hangared at Flabob is a 1928 Stearman C3B owned by Ron Alexander. (Chad Slattery)

FROM THE AIR YOU CAN CLEARLY SEE THAT THE NEW FLABOB AIRPORT is taking over the old one. Lines of shiny new hangars have sprouted among the old buildings, and the runway, taxiways, and ramps have a fresh look to them.

The old Flabob started its life in 1943, when pilot Flavio Madariaga and his business partner, Bob Bogen, purchased a dirt airstrip nestled between the small town of Rubidoux and the city of Riverside in southern California. The two men combined their first names to create "Flabob," but it was Madariaga's personality and talent that shaped the airport. For 40 years he built it up, often with his own hands, making it a mecca for people who are passionate about building and flying airplanes. When Madariaga died in 1984, his son, Don, took over.

During the next 16 years, Flabob fell on hard times and seemed destined for closure, but in 2000, as a new century began, so did a new Flabob. The Thomas Wathen Foundation, founded by Thomas W. Wathen, the former head of the Pinkerton security company, purchased the 82-acre airport, saving it at the 11th hour from commercial real estate developers. Today, the Wathen Foundation uses the newly renovated airport and its resources for educational programs, enlisting aviation to teach science, math, and technology to young people. And a small general aviation community still calls the airport home.

Despite all the spiffing up, Flabob still has a vintage charm, thanks in large part to Madariaga's wheelings and dealings. Not only a master machinist and a skilled pilot, Madariaga was also a brilliant scrounger who bought, sold, and traded airplanes—and nearly everything else. An old gas station canopy that he salvaged still serves as an open-air shelter for aircraft. And he once paid a dollar for a building that had housed a defunct nightclub and moved it to the airport, where he reopened it as a nightclub, restaurant, and social center.

Don't Miss: The Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter One's monthly barbecues; all fly-ins, drive-ins, and walk-ins welcome. Talk shop with such legendary Chapter One members as Ray Stits and Clayton Stephens. For calendar of events, visit www.eaach1.org and www.flabob.org, or write to EAA Chapter One, P.O. Box 3667, Riverside, CA 92519; phone (909) 682-6236. Annual membership is $12.

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