After giving more than 7,000 free rides over the course of 40 years, Carl Unger still delights in recalling one of the first passengers on the airplane he and two friends designed and built: “She was wearing nothing but sandals,” he says with a laugh.
It was 1965, and Unger, along with fellow Chicago-area corporate pilots Charles Roloff and Robert Liposky, had just finished the 40 hours of test flying the Federal Aviation Administration mandates for homebuilt aircraft. “The FAA drew us a corridor for the 40 hours over some sparsely populated area,” Unger says. “Nobody ever saw this airplane.” On his first day flying outside the corridor, he landed on a small strip south of Chicago surrounded by thick woods. While taxiing back to take off, he saw three women emerge from the trees, indeed wearing nothing but sandals.
Unger had landed at a nudist colony.
“The tall one waved and I waved back, so they came running out to the airplane,” he recalls today with a nod to his wife, who is sitting across the living room and knows the story well. Unger stopped the airplane and the women walked around it. They laughed and said, “It looks like us—it’s got nothing on!”
Before long, dozens of nudists were standing next to the naked airplane. “I remember meeting them and looking them right in the eye. I thought I handled myself pretty good,” he says with a wink. After a few minutes, one of the nudists asked if she could go for a ride. Unger was surprised that anyone other than his pilot friends would want to get on the airplane; this was a time long before ultralights, and the airplane looked like nothing else in the sky. But Unger figured, Why not? “Yeah, get on,” he said. The woman doubled her wardrobe by donning a pair of goggles, set down a towel, hopped onto the back seat—and Unger flew one of the first of what would be thousands of passengers in the Breezy.
Since that day, the Breezy has become most famous as an airplane that seems tailor-made for giving rides. Shortly after the visit to the nudist colony, Unger, dressed in the tidy red vest, tie, and slacks that would become his trademark, made his first flight to the Experimental Aircraft Association’s 1965 fly-in in Rockford, Illinois (now known as EAA AirVenture and held in Oshkosh, Wisconsin). That first year, the airplane was presented with a trophy for the most popular homebuilt, as well as an award for the most unusual instrument panel (it’s beneath plexiglass under the pilot’s feet). The Breezy, formally called an “RLU-1” for Roloff-Liposky-Unger, was a hit, and people asked how they could catch a ride. “Get on” was Unger’s simple reply.
The founder of the EAA and the man who helped usher in the homebuilt movement, Paul Poberezny, recalls those early years, and the decades that followed. “The Breezy has been one of the most popular airplanes [at Oshkosh] over the years, and Carl has given thousands of people rides at his own expense for many years at Oshkosh. I give him a lot of credit for [getting people excited about flying].”
The Breezy was never intended to fill such a role. The three designers all worked for the same corporation, flying twin-engine Beech 18s out of Midway airport in Chicago. Unger was in his 30s. “It was all right flying,” Unger says, “but it’s not like the basics.” The young pilots wanted to build something that would get them back to the fundamental stick-and-rudder flying that had lured them to the skies in the first place.
The first foray “back to basics” came when Roloff built a Benson Gyro-Copter from plans in 1963. He flew it many times, but Unger and Liposky weren’t totally enthusiastic. Eventually Roloff crashed the Gyro-Copter, escaping with a few bumps and bruises. Despite the crash, Roloff told the other pilots how much fun it was, sitting out in front of the engine with nothing around you. It was something Unger responded to, as he had always wanted an open-air pusher like those Glenn Curtiss or Lincoln Beechey flew in the early days of aviation. “Let’s build something that’s safe, where we’re sitting out there,” Unger said. “That’s really flying.”
In addition to all being pilots, Liposky was an engineer, Roloff was an aircraft inspector, and Unger was an expert welder who had been a helicopter mechanic in the Army. The three figured they had the skills to design and build an airplane on their own.
After some discussions, the trio built a small wire model; then, without any written plans, they started to construct the airplane in the company hangar at Midway. They bought 4130 steel aircraft tubing, just a few pieces at a time, because they never really planned out how much they would need. A friend at the airport gave them a deal on a pair of wings off a wrecked Piper PA-12; many of the parts were donated by friends, or literally scrounged from the trash, including a nose-wheel fork from a Cessna 150.