Just in time to offer a refreshing alternative to the slew of Honey Boo Boo type of ‚Äúredneck‚ÄĚ programming that tends to dumb down the American conversation, Rocket City Rednecks and its cast of brilliant ‚ÄĒ but still fun-loving ‚ÄĒ Alabama rocket scientists returns. As evidenced in the show‚Äôs successful first season last year, while the Rocket City Rednecks ‚ÄĒ engineer Travis Taylor; his father Charles Taylor (one of NASA‚Äôs original machinists); Rog Jones, who has a genius IQ; Michael Taylor, Travis‚Äô brilliant nephew; and Pete Erbach, Travis‚Äô physicist brother-in-law ‚ÄĒ all embrace their Southern lifestyle and enjoy living the redneck life, they also enjoy, and are proud of, their intelligence.
‚ÄúWe were talking to some junior high school kids,‚ÄĚ Travis tells me, ‚Äúand one of the parents came up and said, ‚ÄėWe really appreciate the fact that you guys are showing that it‚Äôs cool to be smart and that you guys can build anything out of anything.‚Äô ‚Ä¶ Hopefully ‚Äėgeek‚Äô will become a more-loved term. Especially ‚Äėredneck geeks.‚Äô‚ÄĚ
In Season 2, Travis and his team will continue to put their smarts to the test as they build more ‚Äúanything out of anything.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúWe‚Äôve done a bunch of things,‚ÄĚ Travis says, previewing some of the gadgets in store for the new season. ‚ÄúWe built a huge 22-foot-tall rocket [pictured at bottom] and launched it. ‚Ä¶ We built a steam catapult dune buggy, and we launched the dune buggy off the catapult and we pulled over 6 Gs when we launched it ‚ÄĒ I actually chipped a tooth on the thing when we did it. ‚Ä¶ We built a survival pod to withstand a tsunami. ‚Ä¶ We did 16 new episodes.‚ÄĚ
Among the most inspiring, and personal, of the redneck innovations is something they are calling the Full-body Armor Suit Test Unit #1 (FAST U1). It is a lightweight, full-body armor suit designed for soldiers. In late October, Travis tested the mobility of this suit by running the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., while wearing it.
‚ÄúMy older brother is in the Air Force, and he‚Äôs about to go back for his fourth deployment in January,‚ÄĚ says Travis. ‚ÄúAnd it‚Äôs always been near and dear to us about soldier safety. They‚Äôre surviving better and better because the body armor we have is amazing. But there‚Äôs also a much larger loss of limbs than ever before, because the body armor only covers their torso, and their head.
‚ÄúSo I was thinking that we needed to have full-body armor, like Iron Man, from head to toe. So we took it upon ourselves to design some body armor. One of the interesting things when I was talking to soldiers is that they wouldn‚Äôt wear leg and arm armor because it slows them down. So I thought, ‚ÄėWell, if we can build a test model and I‚Äôll wear it, and let‚Äôs put it through the ringer.’ And if a 44-year-old engineering geek can run a marathon in it, then certainly Marines and extremely fit soldiers could.‚ÄĚ
When I spoke to Travis in September, the team was focusing on the mobility of the suit. Travis was put through his paces by a Marine drill instructor in an obstacle course (‚ÄúIt was pretty tough,‚ÄĚ Travis laughs, ‚ÄúI was worn out.‚ÄĚ), which was filmed for Season 2. Travis was unsure if any of the marathon would be filmed in time for the series, but it was possible.
‚ÄúI believe if we get footage of the marathon we might have somebody running it while the credits roll,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôll film two or three hundred hours of footage to make a 22-and-a-half-minute show.‚ÄĚ
The suit was also tested under fire (not with Travis in it, of course), with much of the testing under the guidance of Charles (a.k.a. “Daddy”).
“We‚Äôve fired a bunch of different rounds at it, a bunch of different types,” says Travis. “We‚Äôve tested a bunch of different ideas to make the armor more indestructible and more mobile. And we‚Äôre learning. This is really the mobility test. It will stop 9mm pistols and .357 pistols. It will stop small rifle arms. But it likely won‚Äôt stop armor-piercing rounds. But we believe we could¬† step it up and make it do that. But first we want to test if our idea on the mobility is right first. If we‚Äôre in the right direction and you can move around in this thing, then the next step is to figure out how to make it better.”
Another thing Travis would like to see done better is science education in America, and that is one of goals he had for the series.
“That‚Äôs one of the main reasons for doing the show,” Travis says. “We used to be the leader in everything in this country, and now we think it‚Äôs okay not to be number one, or it‚Äôs okay not to always be first in everything. And in my mind that‚Äôs absolutely horrific. And we want to inspire kids to go out and it ought to make everybody in this country mad that the U.S. isn‚Äôt No. 1 in education, science and mathematics. But we‚Äôre way behind. So I‚Äôm hoping that this will excite kids to put down the Xbox and go out in the garage and pick up a screwdriver and do some things.”
Season 2 of Rocket City Rednecks premieres Nov. 29 at 9pm and 9:30pm ET/PT on National Geographic Channel. The series airs Thursdays.
Top photo: ¬© National Geographic Channels
Bottom photo: Flight 33/NGC