Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Edwards Airmen take on, win 'Car Warriors' challenge

by Kate Blais
95th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

4/27/2011 - EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A group of Airmen work against the clock, turning wrenches to attach weapons, while painting and fabricating the body of their "aircraft."

For 36 hours straight, the team of eight Airmen - seven from Edwards and one from Moody Air Force Base, Ga. - built an A-10 Thunderbolt II on four wheels, complete with shark teeth, which often appear on operational A-10s.

Competing on a military episode of "Car Warriors," a car-building competition series on the Speed Channel, the Air Force team accepted the show's challenge to turn a bare race car into a vehicle reflecting the episode's theme, "NASCAR Death Race Machine."

"We had to do the interior, full paint and body work, and then we had to do fabrication," said James Coppi, the team captain and 412th Maintenance Squadron Munitions Custody account manager. "We had a lot of guns - movie prop Gatling guns, machine guns, rocket launchers, grenades - that we had to incorporate into the car. Since we're an Air Force team, we came up with an Air Force theme, so we painted the car to look like an A-10 aircraft."

The team took time to briefly plan their design and spent the next 35 hours executing their mission. With each Airman having a specific role, Mr. Coppi recalls the team working like a "well-oiled machine."

"It was very systematic being that all the guys on the team [have been] military and are all used to following orders," said Mr. Coppi. "We planned the car and built it exactly how we planned."

The 36-hour time constraint was not the only challenge facing the Air Force team. Dressed in red shirts, the All-Star team, comprised of "well-known builders in the industry," according to Mr. Coppi, also added to the stress of the show's challenge.

During the episode's premier April 20, members of the team congregated around the TV at Mr. Coppi's home to watch their 15 minutes of fame, and recalled the minimal trash-talking between the two teams and laughed at the show's editing.

"Most of it is Hollywood," laughed 2nd Lt. Nicholas Baker, 412th Flight Test Squadron, Speckled Trout Current Operations, who received criticism on the show for taking a "long" time to install the car's sound system.

During taping of the episode, the team decided to take turns, in two groups of four, to rest for three out of the 36 hours. Rest, which most team members admitted, was not easy to take.

"Most of the guys pretty much stayed up the whole time," recalled Maj. Mike Nielsen, a test pilot in the 416th Flight Test Squadron. "We were excited about getting it done."

The excitement and hard work paid off when the challengers produced a winning car, beating out the All-Stars.

The finished product donned a paint job and weapons system that resembled the menacing demeanor of an actual A-10. The "death race machine" had painted exterior panels, painted rivets and painted shark teeth with diamond plate panels on the inside. Gatling guns were mounted on each side, while guns stuck out of the hood and a rear-facing turret seat provided "cover fire" in the back.

"[Staff] Sergeant Brad Bove was our lead painter who did an amazing job," said Major Nielsen. "The producers even bragged about the fact that this was the second best paint job they've seen all series."

This was Sergeant Bove's last paint job before deploying to Afghanistan. In the week between competing to build the car and the judges' final decision, Sergeant Bove went overseas, but wasn't left out of the judges' announcement.

"Mad Mike," a judge on the show, gave the sergeant the good news via Skype, complimenting him on the paint job and letting him know that he and his fellow Airmen had won.

The team proved that having an Air Force edge helped them accomplish their mission and build a winning car.

"We worked well as a team. We had some disagreements here and there but we're professionals," said Major Nielson. "We came to a compromise and came to the best solution without any hard feelings, and that's just what we do in the Air Force."

"The Air Force teaches you to be disciplined, work together as a team and know your place on the team," continued Major Nielsen. "Working under pressure is something that we're used to doing in the Air Force, only the tasks that we were doing were different."

Although the Air Force team was victorious, there were hesitant smiles when asked if they'd do it again.

"Thirty-six hours is not a lot of time, especially for all of the stuff we had to do [to the car]," admitted Airman 1st Class Andrew Golseth, team mechanic and Air Force Flight Test Center Judge Advocate Office paralegal. "It was kind of ridiculous. It was the longest time of my life. I honestly don't care about being on TV again, but it was fun and it's definitely a cool memory."

"We beat the other team because we kept our build really simple," said Airman Golseth. "We did what could, and we did it right."

The winning team is comprised of Mike Adams, 412th Maintenance Squadron; 2nd Lt. Nicholas Baker, 412th Flight Test Squadron, Speckled Trout Current Operations officer in charge; Senior Airman Travis Barron, 412th Operations Support Squadron Aircrew Flight Equipment journeyman; Staff Sgt. Brad Bove, Aircraft Structural Maintenance from the 23rd Wing Flying Tigers, Moody AFB; James Coppi, 412th Maintenance Squadron Munitions Custody account manager; Andrew Golseth, Air Force Flight Test Center Judge Advocate Office paralegal; Maj. Mike "Havoc" Nielsen, 416th Flight Test Squadron test pilot; Tech Sgt. Justin Woldridge, 412th Maintenance Group Aerospace Ground Equipment and Aircraft Quality Assurance inspector.

A team of Airmen from Edwards stand behind their four-wheeled "A-10" on the set of "Car Warriors," a car-building competition series on the Speed Channel. The Air Force team had 36 hours to plan and build a "NASCAR Death Race Machine" from a bare race car. The group of Airmen took home bragging rights after beating the All-Star team of show regulars with a better finished product. (Courtesy photo) Full size


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