Airmen take on, win 'Car Warriors' challenge

  • Published
  • By Kate Blais
  • 95th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
A team of eight Airmen was able to build an A-10 Thunderbolt II in just 36 hours.

Working against the clock, they turned wrenches to attach weapons while still painting and fabricating the body of their "aircraft." They had the iconic "shark teeth," Gatling guns and ... four wheels.

These Airmen -- seven from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and one from Moody AFB, Ga. -- competed 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 said the team worked 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," he said. "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. The Airmen were up against the show's All-Star team, made up of "well-known builders in the industry," according to Mr. Coppi, adding to the stress of the show's challenge.

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. Getting rest, most team members admitted, was not easy.

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

The finished product featured 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 and guns stuck out of the hood, while a rear-facing turret seat provided "cover fire" in the back.

The Air Force team's final product impressed the competition judges so much that it beat out the vehicle created by the All-Stars. The show's producers and judges especially appreciated the paint job by Staff Sgt. Brad Bove, the Air Force team's lead painter, even going so far as to call it "the second best paint job they've seen all series," Major Nielsen said.

Even though Sergeant Bove deployed to Afghanistan in the week between competing to build the car and the judges' final decision, "Mad" Mike Martin, a judge on the show, gave the sergeant the good news via Skype, complimenting him on the paint job and letting him know 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, Major Nielson said.

"We had some disagreements here and there, but we're professionals," he said. "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," Major Nielsen added. "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, a 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."

The winning team members from Edwards AFB were Mike Adams, 412th Maintenance Squadron; 2nd Lt. Nicholas Baker, 412th Flight Test Squadron; Senior Airman Travis Barron, 412th Operations Support Squadron; James Coppi, 412th Maintenance Squadron; Airman 1st Class Andrew Golseth, Air Force Flight Test Center; Maj. Mike Nielsen, 416th Flight Test Squadron; and Tech. Sgt. Justin Woldridge, 412th Maintenance Group. Staff Sgt. Brad Bove is from the 23rd Wing at Moody AFB.