An Unexpected Experience:
AM General's
H1 Driving Academy

By Shawn Pagan

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The morning of day 4 we woke to overcast, cloudy skies. This morning only Tim and Steve arrived to meet us for breakfast as the rest of the instructors were moving the fleet of H1s to the Sand Operations Area so that we could have a new experience from the mud, forests and rocks we had been driving on.

After breakfast we jumped in the van and meet up with the H1s about 15 miles from the Sand Training Area. Here’s where we actually got some seat time on the highways and by-ways of America. At 75 MPH, the H1 is pretty stable but it’s loud. Not loud enough to stop conversation but you might have a sore throat at the end of the trip. (On a side note, I don’t think it's much louder then my Jeep with the Swampers).

Around 9:30 am we arrived at the Sand Training Area where we learned to run in high range and the proper technique to crest the dunes - get a good running start, floor it, and just before breaking over the top take your foot off the throttle so that the middle of the Hummer slaps down on the sand with just enough forward momentum to slide the heavy truck across, then start down the opposite side.

Installing flags
The check-in area
Looking down the dunes
First one up

This technique definitely took a little while to master. Either you ended up high-centered and needing a quick strap to jerk you over the top, or worse yet, you launched the H1 into the air on a ride that might give a whole new meaning to pucker power. None of the students provided a Houston-worthy launch, however, a couple of GM marketing people had come down to meet Tim’s team for this excursion and they launched their H1 over the top of one crest and landed it entirely on the front end (nothing broken but a few smiles from those that saw it). Unfortunately, my camera wasn’t handy but I can tell you that they were more than just a little shaky upon stepping out of the Hummer at the bottom of the hill.

Not quite right
Common theme
I'm strapping him off
Full throttle
Playing around
Kicking up dirt!
Wagon's can play, too
A motley crew, students, teachers & marketing

Lunch was brought in and we relaxed and laughed about our experiences on the dunes. It was a great day outdoors with people who were just having fun. The sandwiches were excellent and the weather was cooperating.

During lunch, the instructors commented that they almost always have a student who ends up launching one but that they were pleasantly surprised that this class had avoided that. I can’t imagine that feeling as the vehicle noses down toward the ground and the violent impact on the other side. It was enough for me to just drop the heavy hummer down on the skid plates as I slid over the top of the dune.

Once we returned to the training facility we sat down in the classroom and went through a quick orienteering course using GPS’s, a compass and a UTM tool. They taught us to read coordinates on a map, load them into a GPS and then find those coordinates by following the instructions of the GPS.

Compass for use with UTM map
UTM scale tool for adjusting map scales to useable GPS / Compass detail

After the conclusion of the classroom course we were lead outside where we had to find coordinates on foot by hiking around the facility. Then we were expected to go find navigation posts around the property while driving some H2s (it was quite comfortable but I do prefer the driving the H1 to the H2).

When night came we were shown a number of different types of off-road lights and how they worked. We each got to got out on the trails at the facility in H1s equipped with the various type of lights and we also got to play with a night vision heads up display (HUD) that allowed us to drive without any lights at all (this was awesome). This concluded in a short night run which was a great cap to the longest day of the Academy.

On a side note, have you ever noticed how great S'mores taste from an open fire, in the middle of a forest with a bunch of people you have grown to call friends?

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