Interview With A Tank Driver
“It’s almost a story of what Oakley design is: an eclectic puddle that we call design.”
Troy McMullen, one of the main cogs in the Oakley design and development machine, could be talking about almost anything. What he’s discussing with me in this particular moment is blowing my mind.
“At a lot of other places, a company’s design takes on the specific aesthetics or a certain artist. At Oakley, it’s incredible engineering wrapped in art – and there are all kinds of personalities.”
So what’d these loose cannons come up with this time?
How ’bout a freaking TANK.
“We generally like to break things. To blow things up. To go fast, be loud – all that kind of stuff.”
So yeah, a tank makes perfect sense.
“We’ve always had toys at the office. We went through pit bikes, go-carts and the security guys roll around the lot in a Hummer. So really, the next logical step is a tank. As it turns out, you can actually buy one just like a car.”
Well, not exactly like a car. After all, you don’t need to contact an arms dealer to lease a Cadillac.
“I talked to a few folks who had bought small arms things and pretty soon it became really clear: we didn’t want a main battle tank. We could’ve gone out and bought a T72 or a T90 main battle tank but s***, they’re immense.”
The Oakley toy tank quickly became a matter of scope, scale and sustainability.
“Once you figure out how big they are, well they’re also really expensive if they’re in perfect condition. But even then they can become a brick if the computer goes out. They’re very hard to maintain. They’re massive. And they’re very dangerous.”
“We decided that we should probably, actually give this one some thought. So we made the ‘adult decision’ this time and settled on an infantry fighting vehicle.”
“The Soviets developed the BMP as something that’s super low maintenance and almost impossible to break. It’s a tract-armored vehicle with the added benefit of troop transport, like eight people in the back. So we thought ‘Hey GREAT! We’ll throw SIX people and a keg in back!’ We figured we were on the right track.”
Time and timing. Nothing ever happens at the speed you want it to.
“You can’t just order it today and have it tomorrow. All told it took about a year to demilitarize the tank, get it approved by the Czech government and ship it. After you get it through Europe you have to bring it to the U.S., which seems simple, right? You have to fill out this form, ‘Ok, give me the form.’ Then you have to apply for the importation of an implement of war, ‘Ok, give me the form.’ The funny thing is, it IS simple. You just fill out your forms, pay your fees and if you’re approved you get your permit. It just takes forever!”
And once it’s here, you’ve got to train.
“I became the driver by default. It was just another part of the process, like going over there to find it in the first place.”
The learning curve is actually kinda steep.
“The first thing you find out is you’ve got this thing, you get inside and it’s got a million switches. And they’re all in Russian. There’s a downside, too: with auto loaders and onboard fire extinguishers, you can’t just be randomly flipping switches.”
But once you get the hang of itâ€¦
“The first time we took it out for about 3-4 hours, tentative at first. But it’s actually kind of simple to drive once you know what not to touch – so I hit some power slides and donuts.”
New-school technology might actually set you back.
“It’s got a Batman-like steering wheel. Clutch, break, accelerator. Hand-held parking break like a 60s pickup truck. A six-speed shift on the column. Basically the qualifications to drive are like this: the more new-school your knowledge base, the harder this thing is to drive.”
And don’t even think about using your rearview mirror.
“As you’re driving around in it you realize that you’ve given up completely your ability to see anything. Where you’re going, details of your surroundings, it’s definitely something designed to be driven where you’re not afraid to kill people and break things.”
Comfort wouldn’t be the first thing on your tank-travel checklist.
“There’s nothing gentle about it, no creature comforts. No padding on the inside, the edges aren’t finished. The interior’s kind of pointy and sharp – very Spartan.”
But even old-school warfare required serious capabilities.
“Oh it does have fluidity, suspension. I’d compare it to a modern era off-road racing vehicle. That’s what gets you: you can hit supercross-style whoopdedoos no problem. Take a six-foot jump at 45mph piece of cake.”
And it doesn’t show up for battle naked.
“Driver, gunner, commander. Driver drives, commander targets and navigates and the gunner uses his 73mm smooth bore gun that fires stabilized rockets. It’s also got a wire-guided anti-tank missle system. It’s a neat system, a mixture of primitive and extremely high tech.”
It can do plenty of damage without even firing its weapons.
“It can punch a hole through concrete, but there’s a limit to what it can run over. If you can get up on something, you can really smash it. But if you can’t get up there, you end up pushing your target around like a beach ball.”
She can play peek-a-boo, too.
“It’s got a smokescreen integrated for combat. The tank can roll in and expel eight troops while doing some donuts. The optics are incredible, the night vision works and it’s amphibious.”
A tank that swims.
“At seven knots. It transitions from operation on the ground to swimming while it’s rolling. You just flip a couple switches and like a Transformer it does its thing.”
Have you taken her for a swim?
“Absolutely, it swims. Allegedly it swims. I’m just not going to be the first one to play Vice Admiral with the thing.”