A brief history of India

Meet i (pronounced “India”), or N824T, our Schempp-Hirth Mini-Nimbus HS-7. Since construction in 1978, India has had several notable owners. Here are the ones I know about:

N824T was imported into the United States by Graham Thomson, who by that time had gotten pretty good at that sort of thing. I’m told Thomson was the first to import a fiberglass airplane into America, a Glasflügel Libelle, and by the late ’70s he ran a sailplane dealership in Santa Monica and a mail-order soaring supplies catalog. 1976-1978 finds the Mini-Nimbus featuring prominently in his advertising, which occupied the entire inside back cover of Soaring Magazine in those years. Here’s the first Mini-Nimbus ad I found, from the December 1976 issue (click to enlarge):

Presumably unlike most of his imports, Thomson kept N824T in the family—after he flew the first flight in the logbook, it seems his son Brian did the lion’s share of the flying. Serendipitously, Brian’s own son Drew did the scoring at the Open Class Nationals at Minden. I don’t normally remember names, but my ears perked up when I heard him casually mention his grandfather. Soaring is a small world.

The next owner was Bill Berle, a writer and consultant with a famous father. Bill introduces himself on his website, where page two has a picture of N824T from 30 years ago. The website also has an aviation adventures page—on it, a photo of Bill standing adjacent to what appears to be N824T, holding its landing gear in his arms. The caption says it got ripped out of the plane during an outlanding! This event may have taken place in another glider, however, since no mention of repairing the gear is made in the logs. Hmm.

Anyhow, Bill’s Internet mentions of N824T are a quick Google away… there’s this, for example, though the vortex generators he mentions have been deleted. There is also a Christmas fable which seems topical given the current stage of my own soaring career.

Below, the logbook entries for Bill’s first flights—I wish mine were as long!

N824T passed through several hands before reaching the man who sold it to us. (Since he’s not as well-known to the Internet as Bill, I’ll go with “G” to spare him unwanted Googling.) By this time, N824T had made it further up the Pacific coast, to Oregon. G’s involvement in aviation goes back to his youth in communist Hungary, where he says he attempted to flee to the West in a stolen aircraft. Although he wound up a few miles short of the Austrian border, G’s resolve was not checked, and he explains that he was secretly constructing a new airplane in an attic, Castle Colditz-style, before a more straightforward opportunity to leave Hungary came about.

When we took delivery of N824T, there were two fake bullet hole stickers on the fuselage just aft of the canopy. G’s stories nurture the imagination, and just like I want to assume that there’s a half-built airplane moldering in a Hungarian hay loft, I’d like to suppose that these commemorated G’s daring escape attempt. No idea for certain.


This post is getting long, so I’ll cut to the chase. In May 2011, Lyle Chamberlain and I bought N824T from G. The story of getting it back to Pennsylvania is a good one for later, and in any case I’d be relating it second-hand, as Lyle did all of the driving. An earlier hangar bull session gave us the name we’d assign to the LLC we incorporated around the ship: Chamberdyne, and just because that didn’t sound ridiculous enough, we embellished it further as Chamberdyne AvSystems.

I’m rambling… An AD repair kept N824T from flying until fall, and Lyle and I only got a few flights before the weather shut things down. Despite the truncated season, I still managed to destroy the original canopy thanks to a fumble while putting the wing into the trailer (ah, the trailer—there will be more to say about that, just you wait). Replacing the canopy and refinishing the ailerons, flaps, and tail saw me heading to Ridge Soaring on many winter weekends. Ridge, of course, is where Mike R. has his sailplane repair shop. It was dusty work:

Happily, all that was done a few months ago. N824T flies today, and it flies as India, i.e. with the competition identifier I. Lyle and I stylize this as i, the imaginary unit, the square root of -1. (Surprisingly, we both work in technical fields.) We have an imaginary contest ID, and we are all set to start winning imaginary contests.


Hopefully Lyle and I will learn as much from N824T as its previous owners have. Lyle is already off to a great start this season, and I hope to catch up. Stay tuned here—and to Lyle’s soaring blog too—and watch it happen.

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