Out in the Breezy
With little fanfare (and less structure), the Breezy homebuilt spreads the message: Flying is fun.
- By Jason Paur
- Air & Space magazine, January 2008
(Page 3 of 3)
Of the many Breezys flying, several include their builders’ personal touches: There’s a biplane Breezy; a four-place Breezy (the original can fit three passengers, with two sitting close together on the rear bench seat); a Breezy on floats; a high-powered, aerobatic Breezy that performed at a handful of airshows. “There’s even a guy who built one in South Africa with real leopard skin seats,” Unger says, thumbing through one of his many picture albums.
Arnie Zimmerman of Downers Grove, Illinois, has been flying passengers at Oshkosh and other airshows in his Breezy for more than 20 years. He estimates he’s given rides to more than 9,000 people. “It’s unusual, it’s a feeling…. It’s an airplane you fly low and slow and you can see everything.” Zimmerman says of the Breezy’s appeal, “It’s a conversation piece.” While some people start the ride with white knuckles, “ninety-nine percent of them end with the biggest smile.”
Over the years, Zimmerman and Unger have given rides to far more people than they can remember. Kids are always fun, they say, but both have had some memorable famous passengers. Zimmerman recalls one passenger who was put on the back seat and immediately reached forward and began working the controls. “I didn’t know he was one of the world’s top test pilots,” Zimmerman says of cosmonaut Anatoly Artsebarsky. Zimmerman had been told only that he was a visitor from Russia. “He loved it,” Zimmerman adds.
In 1994, on the 25th anniversary of the first moon landing, the Apollo astronauts were honored at Oshkosh. And, being pilots, many of them wanted to experience the Breezy. Charles Duke, the lunar module pilot on Apollo 16, went for a ride, but he says it was his wife who surprised him: “She won’t fly with me in a light aircraft, but she really enjoyed the Breezy and was just thrilled to be up and feel the wind and see the visibility you have with the thing.” Duke says the Breezy provides “a feeling of freedom that is the attraction of aviation.” He says he enjoys the highly technical side of aviation and complex aircraft, “but these real simple ones show you what a little ingenuity and practicality will do. It was just a lot of fun.”
Unger recalls all of the Concorde pilots going for rides, several of them more than once. But both pilots remember the less famous passengers as well. Unger fondly recalls an 89-year-old grandmother who took her first airplane ride on a Breezy.
Some of the passengers go on to become aviators themselves—and a number go on to build Breezys. The original flew every year until 1990, when Unger donated it to the EAA museum in Oshkosh; soon after, he found a used Breezy to purchase. Unger’s current Breezy was built in 1974 by then-14-year-old Jay Vieaux. The teenager had gone on a ride with Unger; his parents later bought him a set of plans. “I’m sure my parents never thought anything would materialize of it,” he says more than 30 years later. But after some welding lessons and a lot of mentoring from Unger himself, Vieaux finished the airplane. He’s proud to see Unger still flying it each year at Oshkosh. “It’s really good to see that he’s still giving rides and keeping people interested in aviation,” he says.
Today, Unger is a spry 76 years old. And when he starts talking about flying, a listener might think he had just taken his first ride. His voice rises with excitement as he leans in to the conversation. His eyes widen and he carefully studies your face to make sure you truly understand what an amazing thing it is to travel through the air. When passengers on the Breezy—from astronauts and Concorde pilots to grandmothers and kids on their first rides—walk away from a flight with the same kind of excitement, you have to wonder if they caught it from Unger, or from the little naked airplane.