The Raptors are built using the biggest brakes and strongest halfshafts in the F-150 parts bin, along with the heavy-duty rear axle. SVT has stiffened the engine and transmission mounts 45 percent and crafted trick new aluminum control arms for the front suspension. Those expensive Fox Racing Shox dampers on each corner are the Raptor's secret sauce, however (and they're expensive-SVT's director of basic design and performance vehicles, Hermann Salenbauch, an ebullient German engineer whose CV includes stints at BMW and Rover, says when he presented the Raptor program's costings to Ford's product development brass, one of them saw the piece cost for the shocks and exclaimed: "I could get half a V-8 for that!"). But making the Raptor dance across the desert has taken a lot more than simply bolting on a set of desert racing dampers.

Working to supply an original equipment part was a learning experience, for both Ford, and aftermarket shock manufacturer Fox Racing Shox. The SVT team was impressed with the speed with which Fox could make design changes: "It normally takes weeks for our suppliers to make a change to a part," says vehicle dynamics engineer and lead test driver Gene Martindale. "These guys would do it overnight." And the Fox folks couldn't believe the improvements possible using the skills and tools available to an automaker's development team: "We had the truck about two-thirds as good as where we are now, and they thought it couldn't get any better," says Martindale, who drove a Raptor prototype in the grueling Baja 1000 as part of the truck's development program.

While Martindale and I spend the rest of the day hammering a production-ready 6.2-liter powered Raptor SuperCab along the desert trails, the rest of the team gets to work putting more miles on the two SuperCrew prototypes. The grand finale to each loop is a couple passes over a specially constructed tabletop jump right next to the secret Raptor lair. I stand and watch as 6000 pounds plus of pickup truck gets airborne-and lands with remarkable grace.

Raptors can fly, all right. And now I know how.