You Can Have Too Much Grapefruit…or Lemons

Craig and I were on a T-38A cross-country to Norton AFB, CA (San Bernardino, CA) one weekend. We flew out there and spent the weekend visiting my Aunt Jan. She and her husband lived in Indio at the time.

On Sunday morning she invited us to head out back and take as much grapefruit and oranges as we wanted. Her trees were loaded that year. As it was, Craig and I packed 5 or 6 grocery bags of grapefruit and lemons.

When we got to the jet we packed most of the fruit in the travel pod we had. We got the grapefruit and all of about 3 or 4 lemons in the pod, and stored the remainder in the cockpit. Give up a lemon? Oh, hell no!

Start and taxi were normal. Actually, there was no indication of any problems at all until takeoff. It was my leg and I was flying from the rear cockpit. As we neared 130 knots I began pulling back on the stick, as I had done hundreds of times, and nothing happened! I relaxed back pressure to continue accelerating, then tried again. This time the nose came up, very slowly. Very slowly, matter of fact. And when the jet (finally) became airborne it flew like mush! Very uncharacteristic of the T-38. I continued to nurse it, slowly gaining airspeed. It just felt sluggish.

Somewhere during the climb it finally dawned on us – we were over-grossed! The pod had a weight limit of 140 pounds, and we were surely over that weight! This was confirmed when we leveled off at altitude with about 500 pounds of fuel less than what we had planned for. Thankfully we were only going to Williams AFB, AZ, not that far away.

Upon arriving at Willi, we flight planned to Randolph ABF, TX and saw where we could make it – with a grapefruit, and 2 lemons to spare! Willi had a long runway and we had experience with heavy-weight takeoffs now (Idiots, we were!).

As you might imagine, the takeoff and climb were ‘sluggish’ at best. And we again leveled off with a little less gas than planned. But we made it, and ate grapefruit for a month.

Today I cringe at the thought. What we we thinking? Can you imagine losing a jet because you overloaded the damn thing with grapefruit? Twice? Idiots, we were…

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