By Master Sgt. Eric Petosky, 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
/ Published March 05, 2015
SOUTHWEST ASIA -- At nearly seven feet tall, the iron behemoth towers menacingly over everyone, armed to its crooked metal teeth with a 40mm Gatling gun, steel-clawed feet, chain-link flail, and sinister telescopic eyes. But this isn’t the rise of the machines – it’s a scrap metal sculpture designed and created by inventive Airmen of the 386th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron Combat Metals Flight.
Dubbed “Ironman” by its creators, the sculpture is comprised of more than 200 pieces of scrap, scavenged by the project mastermind Tech. Sgt. Patrick Pittman and a team of four volunteers. Far from an evil genius bent on dominating the world with his mechanical army, Pittman is a soft-spoken artist of few words.
“Working with my hands, with raw materials, is my passion,” said Pittman, an Air Force Reserve machinist deployed from Dobbins Air Force Base, Georgia. “If I get an idea that intrigues my artistic mind, it’s like an itch – I have to do it.”
Pittman works with many mediums at home, including painting, metal sculpting, computer graphics, landscape design, and even wood carving with chainsaws. Ironman is his largest, most ambitious project to date, he said, but he started small – with the feet.
“It all depends on what you can scavenge,” he said. “You lay it all out, and then you start putting it together in your head. I started with the feet, then the midsection, and finally the head. As it started taking shape, other people would suggest things, like making the cannon spin, and I’d try to incorporate those into the project.”
Senior Airman Trevor Bittner, a fellow machinist/welder in the flight, volunteered to help, at first to occupy his free time. As Ironman took shape, so did Bittner’s enthusiasm for the project.
“(Pittman) showed us pictures of some of the other pieces he’s done, and he said, ‘Let’s make this,’” said the 21-year-old deployed from Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona. “He’s the brains behind the operation. Seeing the pieces laid out on the table, and seeing what he does with them are two entirely different things. What he does is mind-blowing. I started getting really excited about it.”
As Pittman and Bittner continued building Ironman, that excitement caught on with others. Soon, people were calling to tell them about pieces of scrap that were available. Worn engine pieces, broken tools, unserviceable gears, empty ammo cans, and discarded bullet and artillery shell casings were systematically collected and incorporated into the sculpture. Pittman even welded a squadron coin into the torso as a crowning touch.
“It’s really cool; people keep visiting the shop to check it out,” Bittner said. “It’s almost the opposite of our job. We have to be very precise when fabricating metal. I’m used to following blueprints, but this project is pure imagination. Altogether, it’s pretty awesome, and I’m proud of it.”
Ironman took the Airmen two weeks to complete, while still responding to customer needs across the base. If it’s metal, it falls under the purview of the flight. Since arriving in January, they have repaired or fabricated pieces for everything from aircraft and heavy equipment to freezer doors and security gates.
Artistically, Pittman doesn’t think Ironman will get a companion or a war hound as company, but he isn’t ruling out any other projects that will bring his team closer together.
“I wanted to step it up with this project, and make it a shop legacy effort,” Pittman said. “Word got out, and people started taking interest. People light up when they see it, and they ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh.’ Hopefully I stretched the minds of people and inspired them.”