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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Flea-Bag International

Well, actually, it is properly called Flabob Airport, but those of us who learned to fly here affectionately called it Fleabag International.

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This little airport just northwest of Mt. Rubidoux in Riverside, CA is a haven for homebuilt aircraft and those trying to aviate on a shoestring budget.  It is also home to the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 1.  This group builds and flies homebuilt aircraft and has been since about 1928 from this location

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They have a new hangar now for their chapter meetings and building activities.

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I learned to fly here in 1973.  I can still remember my first flight with an instructor.  It was during a fierce Santa Ana wind condition and we flew up into the Cajon pass area.  We went into the pass at full throttle, all of about 105 mph.  Then the instructor slowed the plane to about 55 and since the wind was about 70 mph, we actually flew out of the pass backwards!  It was a very bumpy ride and gave me a healthy respect for this wind condition.

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I know I soloed in 1973, 40 years ago.  I don’t recall the exact day, but I do remember it.  After practicing a few touch and go landings, my instructor (Jim), said to pull over to the hangar area.  He got out and said to go make three takeoffs and landings and then come back.

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Of course, this was at Fleabag, so these takeoffs and landings were anything but routine.  On the first takeoff, the passenger door popped open but the force of the wind held it somewhat closed.  After my first landing, I taxied over to a parking area and was able to latch it.

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On the second landing, as I was lining up for the final approach, there were cows on the runway.  There was a large cow farm to the south of the airport and the fence, such as it was, was always needing repair.  The cows had no idea about airplanes so they just wandered around. 

Fortunately, I figured that the Cessna, being a high wing aircraft, would easily clear the cows.  Someone at the airport saw the problem.  I later heard that he scared them away with a few shotgun blasts.  PIC_0447

So the runway was clear for my final two landings and the passenger door stayed locked!  After getting out of the plane, my instructor “decorated” my shirt with a magic marker noting the first solo flight and the date.

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Flabob was always run on the cheap and many of the businesses there kept costs down by cutting corners whenever they could.  99% of the time, there was no problem.

But I recall that Flavio Madriaga, the co-owner (The “Fla” part of the name – Bob being a guy who supplied the rest of the airport’s name) was noted for always doing things on the cheap.

One day he needed pilots to fly over with him to Rialto Airport (About 15 miles away) and bring back three airplanes that he had painted.  One was a twin, one was a Bonanza, and one was a Piper Cub.

He asked for volunteers but I was not familiar with these airplanes so declined.  Anyway he got three pilots, not necessarily qualified in these aircraft, to go over with him and then he was the first one back.

After Flavio got back, he went out and waited near the flight line for the other three aircraft.  The story goes that the Bonanza came in first, made a great landing and taxied over to the tie downs.  As the pilot was securing the aircraft, the Piper Cub came in and ground-looped right into the Bonanza.  The spinning propeller chewed up the side and wing of the Bonanza and the tail tore the fabric off the Piper Cub.

Just after this happened, the twin engine plane came in and the pilot forgot to lower the gear.  In the space of about 5 minutes, over $100,000 damage was done to three aircraft!

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Most airports have weather stations where pilots can find out the local conditions and forecasts.  Here, at Flabob, it is totally simplified.  (You may need to double click the picture to read the writing.)

Flavio and his wife died in a crash at Flabob in the 1980s.  He forgot to remove a control lock from his elevator control and when he took off, he lost control of the plane.

The airport is now owned by a foundation which is keeping it going and using it for educational and home building activities.

And the cows are now all gone!!!!

You can read more about this colorful little airport by Clicking here.

1 comment:

Russ Krecklow said...

Don't the equip those planes with cow catchers, like they do locomotives? Or, at least they used to back in the olden days...like when you were learning to fly. I'm surprised that you didn't see any dinosaurs on the runway, Dave.LOL

Glad you're enjoying seeing some of your old stomping ground. Sure brings back memories, doesn't it?