[www.f-117a.com] Title:
Page born: April 01 2002

[Skunkers celebrating their world domanence.  Notice the Skunk on the vehicle rollbar!  (TLC)]

Skunkworks Engineers Wins Junkyard Wars

This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press November 24, 2001.
Valley Press Staff Writer

[Skunkers celebrating their world domanence.  Notice the Skunk on the vehicle rollbar!  (Lockheed Martin photo)] PALMDALE - Lockheed Martin Aeronautic's Skunk Works may be well known for technological marvels such as the SR-71 and F-117 stealth fighter, but three of its engineers may gain fame for "The Beast."

It's not an engineering feat anyone will see rolling out of a hangar or entering the nation's armed forces, but rather a collection of junked parts pulled together in the heat of competition for bragging rights and a few minutes of television glory.

The Lockheed Martin engineers were contestants on "Junkyard Mega Wars," a special segment of The Learning Channel's television series "Junkyard Wars." The show regularly pits teams against one another in a heated battle to build a machine to perform a specific task, using materials found in a junkyard.

For the "Junkyard Mega Wars" special, the stakes were higher, with three teams representing the United States, Britain and Russia competing to build an amphibious machine that could meet three challenges: racing across a dry lake bed, maneuvering through a boulder-strewn obstacle course, and navigating the waters of a lake.

The Lockheed Martin-sponsored team - the American Raptors - was composed of team captain Barry McGarraugh, Joe Ruggless and Matt Swain, all research engineers at the Skunk Works facility in Palmdale.

They have spent decades together designing and building out-of-this-world aircraft; putting together a working contraption from a pile of junk wasn't much of a stretch.

"We've had to do things never done by man before," Ruggless said.

Well-trained from years spent working in the highly classified world of the Skunk Works, this team knows how to keep a secret: none of them revealed who won the "Mega Wars" competition, even to their families.

The team came together after McGarraugh received e-mail in late May looking for interested participants.

"I thought this would be fun and a whole bunch of guys around here would be interested," he said.

He passed on the message, then left for a business trip in Georgia.

Ruggless and Swain, self-described " `Junkyard Wars' geeks," were interested.

"I really wanted to be on this program," Ruggless said. "I'd worked with these guys for 20 years and I knew their capabilities."

So, with only 48 hours before the entry deadline, Ruggless decided to sign up his team.

"I was pretty excited at first," Swain said. But he began to have his doubts when he saw how quickly they would have to put together their application.

"(I thought) you're going to make an idiot of yourself," Swain said. "If I can't put together a good resume, I'm not going to do it at all."

Ruggless, however, would not be deterred.

"I wasn't going to take no from these guys," he said.

"Next time I talked to him," Swain said, "he had my resume on his computer."

Undeterred by McGarraugh's absence, the other two team members wrote his resume for him.

"We didn't let him see it until after the program was filmed," Ruggless said.

The application also required a video. With 24 hours to go, the team met during lunch and put together their own junkyard event. Within the hour, they had 30 minutes of unedited video and sent it off to the show's producers.

There was only one problem: "We failed to read the part (in the instructions that said) it was supposed to be five minutes" of introducing the team members, Ruggless said.

Regardless of the error, the video must have worked, because the engineers were chosen over other American teams from NASA, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Microsoft and four others from Lockheed Martin.

The competition took place during one hot week in July. It began with filming the building phase at the show's junkyard set in the San Fernando Valley.

"It's a real peculiar junkyard," McGarraugh said. It was stocked with the particular materials the show's producers feel will be needed to complete the assigned task.

Because the British version of the show - Scrapheap Challenge - is filmed at the same location, the materials include an odd assortment of British cars and other junk that would be more familiar to the British contestants.

The teams each had 20 hours over two days to build their machines, in temperatures that averaged about 105 degrees in the yard.

Each of the teams was allowed two players to scavenge the yard for parts, while one member and an "expert" assigned to each team by the show stayed behind in a work space, designing and assembling.

"We used everything," Ruggless said. "We were truly resourceful."

In designing and building their machine, the Raptors were able to call on not only their professional experience, but also their personal hobbies.

Ruggless likes to build and drive race cars in his spare time - "I like that adrenaline rush," he said - while Swain builds and operates steam locomotives and has four-wheel drive experience. Both lent their expertise to the land challenges. McGarraugh's hobby is building and flying airplanes, primarily sailplanes, knowledge that came in handy for the watercraft challenge.

"Water's just thick air," Ruggless said about the application of McGarraugh's experience.

"All of us have such different hobbies after work and so much experience together that there wasn't much we wouldn't know how to do," Ruggless said.

The competition can get heated, with teams allowed to sabotage parts that a competitor might need. For instance, the British team figured that the Americans would need outboard motors and something for buoyancy for the water test. So, they destroyed all the outboard motors and 50-gallon drums in the junkyard.

In the search for hardware, it's a case of "finders keepers": anything is fair game if you don't hang on to it.

"It's a true war out there," Ruggless said.

[Last minute adjustments being made to the 'Beast'.  (TLC)] The competition culminated in two days of events in the desert near Twentynine Palms to test the performance of the machines. With temperatures that reached 120 degrees, the challenge was tolerating the heat as well as successfully completing the tasks.

On the day of the lake challenge, "to be three feet away from that cool water and dying to get wet" may have been the hardest part, Swain said.

The competition was not without certain additional stumbling blocks, namely the "expert" provided to each team by the show. For the Raptors, the relationship was less than productive.

The Raptors' expert was Jason "Pudge" Bunch, a specialist in rough terrain vehicles.

"Jason didn't want to play. It was his way was the only way," Ruggless said.

"We were the hired help," Swain added.

The teammates believe the addition of the experts is actually a ploy by the show's producers to add some dramatic conflict into the program.

"Regarding the expert, we thought we might find a chair and a roll of duct tape and take matters into our own hands," said McGarraugh, an engineer for the F-22 Raptor.

"By the end of the week ... we wouldn't even give him the time of day," Ruggless said.

The friction between team members and expert was not unique to the Americans, but their Russian counterparts came up with an innovative way of dealing with it. Because only the team captain was fluent in English, and their expert didn't speak Russian, the captain acted as translator. He would discuss plans with their expert, then tell his teammates to do something else when he translated.

Although fiercely competitive during the event, the three teams became very close during the weeklong filming. On their day off between the construction phase and the tests, the Americans played tour guide, showing the other teams around Southern California, from the Santa Monica Pier to Olvera Street, with a side trip to a vintage car museum.

"We were all gearheads, so everyone enjoyed it," Ruggless said.

At the end of the week, the teams gathered for a barbecue at Ruggless' Palmdale home.

"It was sad when they went away," he said. "They were truly our brothers."

This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press November 27, 2001.
Valley Press Staff Writer

[Skunkers showing off their 'prize'.  (AV Press photo)] PALMDALE - A week's worth of thinking, building, driving, paddling and junkyard scavenging translated into internationally televised gearhead glory Sunday for three engineers from Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. Skunk Works.

The trio - Barry McGarraugh, Joe Ruggless and Matt Swain - represented the United States on The Learning Channel's "Junkyard Mega-Wars." And represented ir well, defeating teams from Great Britain and Russia to claim the title.

The three spent two 10-hour days at a junkyard outside Sunland, piecing together "the Beast," an amphibious, boulder-climbing, all-terrain vehicle that won on the show during two more days of desert racing.

All three work on the Skunk Works' F-22 Raptor in Palmdale. McGarraugh is the chief engineer. They named their team the Raptors.

The rules were simple. Each team had 20 hours to design and build a vehicle with whatever junk they found. They then competed in races on a dry lake bed, a course full of boulders and a reservoir. Whatever they transformed from junk to vehicle had to cruise on land, plod over rocks the size of a typical office desk and get around in water.

The show was actually filmed in July but premiered Sunday. And although there was no official demand that the trio stay mum about their victory, they kept quiet for the most part.

"We're in the business of keeping secrets," Swain said. "So we just put on the same hat we always wear."

A key piece to winning was the engine they found in the old Chevy truck that was the foundation of "the Beast." It was a big eight-cylinder hulk with modifications to make it even more powerful. The trio said there were items in the junkyard that seemed to be planted there to help the teams along, lest the show producers have teams come up empty-handed on their 20-hour building quest. The engine in that Chevy was one of those planted items, McGarraugh speculated.

After they coaxed the engine to life, the ensuing roar turned the heads of the foreigners who were hacking at their vehicles nearby. The engine made quite a din and drowned out the "lawn mower motors and Toyota engines" that the competition was working with, the American team said.

During the show, the opposing teams shrugged off the V-8. The Russians rolled their eyes, agreeing that a big, noisy engine was typically American. The British agreed with each other that noise did not equal power.

What you don't see during the show, the three Americans said, is that the modified Chevy V-8 scared the competition. The junkyard had been alive with the racket of grinding metal before they started the engine, McGarraugh said. But after they roared the Chevy V-8 and then turned it off, everyone was silent.

"It went from a lot of noise to nothing," McGarraugh said. "Even people from the street were looking over the fence."

So then everybody started saying the American craft would be too heavy to float. Even the producers had their doubts.

McGarraugh was on that problem, though. He had calculated the center of gravity to rest near the truck's firewall, and added fiberglass boxes for buoyancy based on his calculations. "I knew it would float," he said.

They added part of a large fan - possibly from an 18-wheeler - and some big tires to hop over big rocks. Pretty soon they ready to go.

[Skunkers working on 'The Beast'. (TLC)] The work was hard and the temperatures at the racing locations reached 115 to 120 degrees. But they couldn't let up under the spotlight.

"If you really want to look like a wimp, sit down and take a break now, because everybody's watching," Swain said he thought as he toiled.

The first race started out with a scare. The "granny low" gear in their vehicle was useless and they couldn't get second gear to take.

Finally, Ruggless put it in third gear. Lurching along was better than nothing, he thought.

Pretty soon, they were flying along and blew everybody away.

"At the point we passed the Brits, I think we might've been going twice their speed," Swain said.

They handily won the race around the boulder-laden course. The Russians didn't even finish that leg after the drive chain broke off their half-motorcycle, half-john-boat three-wheeler.

The Russians took the water race, but the victory was sealed for the Raptors.

Also see the Official TLC Junkyard Wars Website

E-mail: webmaster@f-117a.com
Copyright © 1998-2003 www.f-117a.com