We Went to Tank-Driving School. It's Easier Than You'd Think.

Thirty-six tons makes for a slow yet steady commuter option

By Evan Bleier

 
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07 August 2018

This piece is part of an ongoing editorial partnership with RealClearLife, a news and lifestyle site that connects successful men to everything they need to know. Be sure to head over to their website for the latest. 


If you’ve never driven a vehicle with a clutch, a Russian T-55 MBT is a good place to start.

At least that’s what your humble narrator was thinking right up until he crashed said T-55 MBT (Main Battle Tank) into a tree after about 500 yards and caused the 36-ton beast to stall out.

Still, as embarrassing as it was to crash in front of my Tank Camp pals, it was worse for the tree.

Drive a Tank

Wait — Tank Camp pals?

Yep. Those would be the lucky group of journalists, gamers and mercenaries who were fortunate enough to travel to Kasota, Minnesota, to drive tanks at a place that’s very upfront about what its purpose of business is, Drive A Tank.

We were there on behalf of gaming company Wargaming to get some firsthand experience with some of the historical tanks that appear in the latest edition of their World of Tanks series, Mercenaries.

Hence the lone mercenary.

Drive a Tank

The first thing you do at Tank Camp is learn how to be safe. Unlike those safety briefings before taking off in an airplane, paying attention to this one was easy. Something about the phrase “squish your insides out until you’re flat as a pancake” just makes one take notice. Maybe it was just me.

Regardless, the basics are pretty simple: Pay attention. Both hands on a tank at all times if you are on top of it. Don’t stand in front of a tank that has its motor running and someone who isn’t an instructor in the cockpit.  Try not to wind up a bloodless pancake. Simple.

Following the safety briefing, it was time to crush cars with a Chieftain MBT. This was easy. Put a massive tank in gear. Hit gas. Hit brake. Repeat.

Up next was a trip to the firing range (which also included a very thorough and persuasive safety talk).

With a stocked arsenal including an MG42 WII belt-fed machine gun, a Barrett .50 caliber anti-material rifle and an M4 machine gun, Drive a Tank was not lacking in weapons. 

They also had plenty you couldn’t shoot …

Drive a Tank

Out of all the options, however, the weapon that was the most enjoyable to use was the one General George S. Patton once referred to as “the greatest battle implement ever devised.”

That’d be the MI Garand, a gun that if you’ve ever seen a World War Two film like Saving Private Ryan, you’ve seen in action.

Not sure? Just wait for the clip to pop out after the final shot. 

From there, it was back to the tank track to drive an FV433 Abbott SPG and the aforementioned T-55.

Driving both of these was more difficult than the Chieftain MBT, mostly because they required steering. The way you do that is via a pair of levers that were a bit tricky to get the hang of since both had to be operated independently.

For such a heavy vehicle, a light touch is important because overcorrecting is pretty easy to do and fairly difficult to undo. That said, it was easy enough that someone who has driven a bumper car more recently than an actual car could do it. (Although that tree might argue otherwise.)

Here’s a view from atop the Abbott …

… and from the  T-55 when its driven (mildly) correctly.

Driving the tank in one of those videos was Darold Higa, a narrative designer at Wargames. 

He, like the rest of us, was at Drive A Tank to get a real-life feel for vehicles Wargames uses in their products, including World of Tanks Mercenaries.

Well, mission accomplished.

“I have had multiple chances to see the exteriors of tanks, and I’ve studied them from afar but having the controls in my hands and actually moving that huge chunk of metal was absolutely thrilling,” Higa told RealClearLife after the driving was done. “I can see why tank drivers speak so fondly of their time when they were in the field with their vehicles. It also gives me a lot of appreciation when I watch veteran crews get in and out of their tank without ladders or extra help – and they do it quickly too.”

Here’s why he has that appreciation …

Drive a Tank

Now, after driving tanks and getting inside of some, Haig may go about designing his narratives a bit differently.

“Our tank experts have a lot of experience with tanks, but for me, from the narrative perspective, it gives me a much better understanding of the mindset of the crew,” he said. “You develop an emotional attachment to this huge chunk of steel, it becomes an extension of yourself and a projection of your will. That is an amazing experience. Knowing your vehicle intimately, understanding how it operates. I think this all feeds back into understanding the minds of characters. I think this will help my ability to go on creating more interesting scenarios for the game.”

Check out the trailer for World of Tanks Mercenaries below.

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