The People and Planes of Flabob
This California airport is hallowed ground for homebuilders and Hollywood stunt pilots alike.
- By Marshall Lumsden
- Air & Space magazine, November 2004
(Page 2 of 6)
In a back corner, black-and-white photographs show Madariaga and his wife Bertha, or Bert, as everyone called her, posing by various aircraft. She is beautiful. He is movie star handsome, a cross between Clark Gable and Gilbert Roland.
Situated some 50 miles east of Los Angeles, Flabob has long drawn aviation folks connected to the film industry. Legendary stunt flier Frank Tallman, who flew an airplane through a billboard in the 1963 movie It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, had a hangar here in which he restored military aircraft to appear in movies. Tallman later hooked up with movie pilot Paul Mantz, who specialized in flying through buildings, and in 1961 the two founded Tallmantz Aviation at what is now known as John Wayne Airport, in Santa Ana, California.
For a while the Tallmantz payroll included aerobatic pilot Art Scholl; he later started a production company at Flabob, producing aerial photography and flying sequences for movies and television shows. Scholl was also a veteran airshow pilot, flying the Pennzoil Special, a highly modified de Havilland Super Chipmunk that is now on display in the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia. (In 1985, Scholl, 53, died while filming an aerial sequence for Top Gun: After putting a Pitts S-2A into an intentional spin, Scholl never regained level flight and the airplane plunged into the Pacific.)
Some people have been around the airport so long that they seem to be part of the infrastructure, and they can fill you in on the rest of Flabob's history. Ray Stits, a pioneer in homebuilt aircraft, arrived here in March 1951. He was already well known for building the world's smallest monoplane, the Stits Junior, which he made because somebody told him he couldn't do it. Its wingspan is eight feet, 10 inches.
Once at Flabob, he outdid himself with the Stits Sky Baby, the world's smallest biplane, which has a seven-foot, two-inch span. Over the years at Flabob, Stits designed 14 aircraft for homebuilders.
"Flavio built this place from scratch," says Stits. "You had to check for wild stray dogs and cattle on the runway. There were four hangars here and a little cement-block office building. I got an empty hangar, doors [missing]. Okay, I can get that for 15 dollars a month? Here's my 15 dollars."
Stits was responsible for the Experimental Aircraft Association being organized by chapter. In 1953, he heard that somebody named Paul Poberezny in Hales Corner, Wisconsin, was starting an organization for homebuilders. He inquired about it. "Got a letter back," he says. "Two pages of bylaws. Thought about it for a couple of weeks, and it was five dollars membership. And, okay, here's my five dollars. Let's change the bylaws to provide for a West Coast chapter." Poberezny agreed, but said that Stits had to get 10 members signed up. "Got nine other people," says Stits. "Wrote back and said, 'Okay, you got Chapter One.' "
Today, the EAA has almost 1,000 chapters worldwide, and Chapter One, which held its first meeting in 1954, has more than 500 members, many of whom live in other states and pay dues just so they can say they belong to it. A group of dissident Chapter One members formed another chapter at Flabob a few years ago—Vintage Aircraft Association Chapter 33. The two chapters are now friendly, but each sponsors its own fly-in. Chapter 33 holds one with an open house in May; Chapter One hosts its event in September.