Project Chevrolet S-10 Air Dancer - What the...?

Truck Hopping Makes No Sense, But It Sure Does Draw a Crowd. Sport Truck Goes Behind the Scenes With a Real Hopper on Modified Air Ride Suspension

Mike Finnegan
Mar 1, 2006
Photographers: Mike Finnegan, Gary Blount
Photo 2/43   |   project S10 Air Dancer hopping
Awhile back at a summertime truck show, we watched in horror as a young man bounced his brand-new fullsize Chevy off the ground and when it landed the second time, the entire center section of one of his chrome 20-inch wheels broke away from the outer hoop. After cursing ourselves for not catching the incident on film, we got to wondering why in the world anyone would submit their truck to that kind of punishment. What logical purpose did it serve? Our heads were filled with obvious questions such as these during the long ride home from the show. But, then we wondered about something even more important-how in the hell were these guys making their trucks hop off the ground using an air suspension? By pure coincidence, we got an e-mail shortly thereafter from a guy named Matt Petro who was ready, willing, and able to answer all of our stupid questions, live and in person.
Photo 3/43   |   project S10 Air Dancer completed Day
Matt directed us toward an internet web blog that had more than 100,000 hits about the buildup of his Chevy S-10, dubbed Project S-10 Air Dancer. We soon learned that his was not some clapped-out beater truck, but rather one that he takes great pride in maintaining and then beating on repeatedly at truck shows across the nation, just for the fun of it. Oh, and he gets a nice paycheck for bouncing his ride till parts fall off it, too. Think we are lying? Then, check out the photos. His whole truck has been custom-painted, including the chassis and suspension. The bed features a color-matched spray-in bedliner, and the interior is even hooked up with a billet steering wheel and aftermarket bucket seats. It's a decent-looking machine, even if it is wearing a set of wire wheels. We knew the truck looked the part of a real hopper, but could it move? An internet video of the thing during lift off gave it instant street cred with us. After the initial shock wore off, we hit Matt up for some photos that we could print in Sport Truck to show you what we'd found. Matt did us one better and offered to bring the truck all the way out to Las Vegas for a photo shoot. That's a 29-hour-long tow for those of you from his hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana.
Photo 4/43   |   project S10 Air Dancer rear End View
Photo 5/43   |   project S10 Air Dancer tailgate
After he kept his promise of not flipping the truck on its lid during an appearance at the SEMA Show, we hauled it out to a dry lake bed to see just what truck hopping was all about. It was about pure senseless violence on a poor pickup! This is hands down the most ridiculous act of vehicular destruction we've ever witnessed, and we loved it. Matt hopped and twisted his truck in directions we never dreamt possible, until it indeed ended up on its side. The fun lasted just minutes before he'd exhausted the supply of nitrogen delivered from three 304-cubic-foot bottles in an explosion of metal mayhem. When the carnage was over, the truck was in pretty good shape, considering the abuse it had suffered through. The grille, one headlight, a side mirror, and the tailgate had been ejected from the body, and the bed had a serious case of the bends, but the structural improvements Matt has made kept the chassis intact.
Ouch! Matt nearly puts Project S-10 Air Dancer on its lid.
It only takes two big guys like Toby Mosholder and Sport Truck's own Gary Blount to push the truck back onto its wheels. Notice how the truck immediately wants to flip over the other way because of its lack of suspension control. This is one good reason why your average 'bagged truck runs shock absorbers.
Photo 20/43   |   project S10 Air Dancer on Trailer
Matt tows his S-10 to more than 30 shows a year, putting on a hopping exhibition that always draws a crowd.
Photo 21/43   |   project S10 Air Dancer hopping Preparation
Once the nitrogen supply is connected and the 30-foot-long switch cord is extended, the fun is ready to begin. Take a good look at this truck because in a few minutes it will be beat up bad.
Photo 22/43   |   project S10 Air Dancer battery And Switch Box
A pair of Optima batteries is wired in series to ensure a steady 24-volt supply to the solenoid valves and this off-the-shelf CCE 16-switch control box.
Photo 23/43   |   project S10 Air Dancer parts And Supplies
A hopper requires lots of support in the form of spare parts like airbags, solenoid valves, tools, and, of course-air!
Photo 24/43   |   project S10 Air Dancer interior Seats
Photo 25/43   |   project S10 Air Dancer interior
Although the cab of this truck features a bitchin' billet steering wheel from AIM Industries and bucket seating from APC, we wouldn't recommend going for a ride.
Photo 26/43   |   project S10 Air Dancer wheel
Why does it seem that all hoppers that can really fly run wire wheels and small 14-inch tires? According to Matt, it's because of the inherent strength that comes with the design of the wheel and because the little tires would look weird on any other wheel. Look closely and you can see that although this wheel has taken a serious beating, it's still functioning properly. Matt also says that he runs air tubes inside of the 185/75R14 Firestone tires, so that when he lands from a really good bounce, the entire sidewall of the tire will compress, momentarily.
Photo 27/43   |   project S10 Air Dancer front Suspension
If you look through the maze of CCE No. 8 hydraulic hoses that make up the air system plumbing, you'll notice that the front suspension is pretty basic. The Slam Specialties XS-7 600-psi airbag is installed in typical fashion, between the Air Ride Technologies upper control arms and Chassis Tech lower control arms. It's a mismatched combo but, according to Matt, provides more travel than if the truck was running the same arms top and bottom. This truck also runs Chassis Tech 3-inch lift spindles, rather than lowering spindles, to aid in keeping the truck from bottoming out on the ground when hopping. We assumed the arms would pivot on spherical bearings rather than factory ball joints because of the amount of stress put on them as the suspension reaches maximum travel, but that was not the case here. Note the limiting chains that keep the suspension from over-extending the 'bag and ball joint.
Photo 28/43   |   project S10 Air Dancer limiting Chains
The rear suspension pivots on Johnny Joints or spherical bearings, which are superior in construction to the average urethane bushing. Limiting chains are also employed like the front suspension, to limit travel.
Photo 29/43   |   project S10 Air Dancer rear Air Bag
The rear 'bags enjoy a mechanical advantage that the front ones do not have because they are mounted on longer bars, closer to the pivot point, which results in the rear having more up travel than the front.
Photo 30/43   |   project S10 Air Dancer former Engine Compartment
Pop open the hood of the air dancer and you won't find the factory four-banger. It was ripped out, in favor of an 8-gallon front-mounted reserve air tank and eight prototype 1/2-inch orifice 500-psi Air Lift solenoid valves. All eight of these valves are used just for the front pair of airbags. Each 'bag has two air inlet ports, and each port receives two valves: one that allows the air to enter the 'bag from the line, and the other that evacuates the air from the 'bag and the line. The truck did have a motor until the end of the 2005 season, when the force of repeated hops kept it from running reliably.
Photo 31/43   |   project S10 Air Dancer step Notch
Like many lowered trucks, the rear framerails have been treated to an 8-inch step notch, which allows the axle to travel upward several inches before it bottoms out. Matt fabricated his own axle out of 3-inch-diameter, 1/4-inch wall tubing and fitted it with late-model Chevy Cavalier hub and bearing assemblies. Matt went with the Cavalier parts because he could bolt these hubs on without using the stock S-10 axles.
Photo 32/43   |   project S10 Air Dancer bed Air Supply System
The air supply system employs two more 8-gallon reserve tanks for the rear suspension and, of course, eight more solenoid valves. These are 1/2-inch 300-psi rated Air Lift valves. Look close at the top of the tanks, and you'll see two ball valves and quick-disconnect fittings. Since no air compressors are used, the quick-disconnect fittings will be attached to long leader hoses that run to nitrogen-filled cylinders that will be located nearby, outside of the truck. The ball valves are used to shut off the air supply.
We had our cameras set on kill because Matt had every intention of sending his truck skyward. It was utterly amazing to watch this truck launch itself from a stand-still into the air. If you look closely you can see the roll pan getting hammered into the dirt as the front end of the truck takes flight. This kind of action is murder on the bed.
Going, Going, Gone. Check out the self-ejecting chrome grille that Matt fitted his truck with. Now, that has to be worth some extra points at shows. "I don't have any problems with the suspension on it. I just have to find a way to keep the body on!" says Matt.
Photo 41/43   |   project S10 Air Dancer nitrogen Cylinder
Photo 42/43   |   project S10 Air Dancer carrying Nitrogen Cylinder
Building a hopper involves a lot of fabrication work and commitment. Successfully running a hopper at a show involves even more prep work and travel. It's definitely not a one-man job, and Matt relies heavily on his friends to keep the program running smoothly. Each of the nitrogen cylinders weighs 165 pounds and must be watched over carefully during a hop to make sure the truck doesn't inadvertently hit one. Can you say ballistic missile waiting to happen? According to Matt, the suspension uses nitrogen even though CO2 tends to last longer because nitrogen is a drier air that doesn't cause the solenoid valves to stick.
Photo 43/43   |   project S10 Air Dancer rear Suspension
The rear suspension pivots via the same five-link system that you can order from yourself. The links are a bit longer, but the design is essentially the same with an upper wishbone keeping the rear end centered and the lower links controlling the up and down motion.


Air Lift Company
Lansing, MI 48908
Fender Bender International
Rancho Cordova, CA
Auto Body Panels
Cincinnati, OH
A-Dapt-It USA Wheel Adapters
American Products Company
Kicker Car Audio



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