My Breezy Ride at AirVenture: Third Time’s a Charm?
It almost happened at AirVenture 2011. I knew I’d be waiting for hours. My nephew brought me famous EAA donuts and held my place in line while I visited the porta potty. Just as it seemed I was finally nearing the front of the line, suddenly the airport was closed. An airplane landing runway 36 had lost control and come to rest in the pit between the landing strip and taxiway. By the time a crane removed the plane and the airport was reopened, it would be time to start the day’s airshow. No more Breezy rides that day. I was sad.
What’s a Breezy? Nothing for the faint of heart, that’s for sure! Picture a pair of orphaned Piper Super Cruiser wings. A steel tube fuselage with vintage Piper Cub style tail feathers. Add whatever four banger pancake engine you happen to have sitting around, in pusher configuration. A Continental C90 will do. Toss in a pair of seats in tandem, and a nose wheel landing gear. You could say this plane takes the concept of open cockpit and throws it clean out the window. But there is no window. Or door. No roof. Or floor. Nothing that is not absolutely essential. It’s the ultimate fresh air experience, to put it lightly!
A few Breezy owners and pilots have graciously been giving free rides at AirVenture for decades. One friendly fellow, Arnie Zimmerman has been bringing his Breezy, N3AZ, to Oshkosh for years. He and his buddy Jim tag team it, switching off as pilot, giving as many rides as humanly possible each day, up until the start of the daily airshow. It’s truly one of the nicest Breezies that I have ever seen.
I left the show in 2011 without getting my Breezy ride. And darn it, I missed AirVenture 2012. I don’t quite recall how it happened, but I was talking with a buddy of mine last fall and we got talking about me wanting a Breezy ride. Well heck, I come to find out that he had gotten a Breezy ride many years ago, and he loved it! A career welder, he said “Let’s order up a set of plans!”
I checked the “aircraft kits” section of the Aircraft Spruce catalog. Sure enough, there was the Breezy! Spruce would be happy to sell me the raw materials kits for this flying gizmo, but for a set of drawings I’d have to send payment directly to Breezy designer Carl Unger.
Two weeks and $155 later, my buddy and I had our very own set of Breezy plans! Included in the package was a funky business card with a short handwritten note from Mr. Unger, “Call me! I want to talk to you.” On the other side was a sketch of a really cute red and white Breezy, with an exaggerated cartoon head wearing a red cap and goggles doing the flying!
So I called Mr. Unger. No doubt, a super nice guy. In his 80’s, living in Illinois. Above all else, he told me to follow the plans EXACTLY, and that even a 14 year old could build one. Because, he said, a 14 year old had built one, with the most beautiful welds!
We must have talked for almost an hour. Actually Mr. Unger did most of the talking. Breezy stories and lots of helpful advice. And before we hung up, he again told me to follow the plans EXACTLY. I felt honored to have just talked with one of the true innovators in the world of homebuilt airplanes, and a legend in his own right.
I told my brother about this very special phone call I had shared, and he said “Wait a minute! I think I have something you’d like to see!”
What possibly could he have? My brother would never be caught dead anywhere near an experimental contraption like the Breezy. He’d take one look at it and say “I sure hope the wings don’t fall off…”
Well darn it, if he didn’t produce three photos our father had taken at the 1966 EAA fly-in, which at the time was held in Rockford Illinois. No mistaking it as a Breezy! And look at the man standing proudly beside the plane. I thought for sure that I’d seen that head before. But this head had a body, and it was wearing a white shirt, narrow black necktie, red vest and black pants. Even a gold chain, perhaps securing an unseen pocket watch. Then I remembered the business card. It was Mr. Unger, and what certainly must have been the world’s first Breezy!
So my first order of business at AirVenture 2013 was to again try to get myself a ride in this flying “swing set”, of sorts. I came equipped with something better than EAA donuts this time. I had copies of all three of the 1966 photos. Maybe somehow, I thought, I could use them to quickly cut to the front of the line. Show the Breezy driver that my interest was legitimate, saving on donuts and trips to the porta potty.
But this year was different. Mr. Zimmerman’s Breezy was on the field where I was used to seeing it, but it was all buttoned up, tied down, and cold as a potato. No signs of life. I asked around and everyone gave me the same answer. For whatever reason, no Breezy rides this year. Once again, I was sad.
Then I got a phone call from my nephew. “Uncle Charles”, he said. “I’m over here at the EAA AirVenture Museum, and you’re not going to believe what I’m looking at!”
I figured he had either just stumbled upon a new red Corvette bearing his name, or maybe he caught a glimpse of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, rumored to be making an appearance at the show this year. But it was no hot dog on wheels that he was describing. I thought I had better go check it out for myself.
On display right smack in the middle of the main floor of the EAA museum I found the world’s very first Breezy, complete with a lifelike rendition of Carl Unger at the controls. This was the very same plane I saw in my father’s 1966 photos!
We’ve come full circle folks. From stumbling upon old photos of Mr. Unger and the first Breezy, to seeing man and his creation immortalized 48 years later in the EAA AirVenture Museum. Where else on earth is the true spirit and history of all types of aviation more nurtured and better preserved than by the people of the Experimental Aircraft Association?
I’m sure that someday I will join the ranks of thousands who have gotten Breezy rides. But when? If you’re listening Mr. Zimmerman, I’m ready!
By Charles Hrutkay