Most folks agree that the best way to learn a new skill is through a combination of technical instruction and hands-on experience. That's exactly the approach that young Shannon Chapa from Cordele, Georgia, chose as a way of achieving his long-term goal of opening his own body shop.

Currently enrolled in South Georgia Technical College studying electronics, Shannon is supplementing his classroom instruction with the best kind of practical experience. At 19, Shannon's been involved with lifted trucks for the past five years. When he received his '08 Ford F-250 as a graduation present, the truck had less than 10 miles on it before he and his father Raul had a plan worked out for lifting it. They teamed up with their good friend Cole Sercer of Sercer Machine in Rochelle, Georgia, who began implementing the changes.

Building from the bottom down, Cole used his custom jacks to raise the F-250 and remove the stock Ford suspension. Since the original Dana 60 up front and the Sterling 10.5 in the rear were more than strong enough, they were retained, but new four-links (front and rear) were designed using 2-inch, 0.25-inch wall thickness DOM tubing. Rather than building a central cage, Cole wanted a high center for the truck and created custom brackets to hold the four-links.

He replaced both driveshafts, converting the Ford two-piece driveshaft in the rear to a one-piece version. Here's where the build gets a little more complicated. Not only would the truck have a full 12 inches of lift, it also raises and lowers thanks to its new airbag suspension.

Adjusting the truck's altitude is accomplished by four huge Firestone Triple Convolution bags that rest on custom-fabricated perches. They provide about 14 inches of lift, but travel is limited by the Poly Performance limiting straps. The bags are energized with a bed-mounted Oasis compressor that feeds a 20-gallon oxygen tank used as a reserve. Danz valves and 3/4-inch hydraulic lines fill the bags.

Look closely and you'll see the Sway-A-Way spring-loaded bumpstops incorporated into the design that cushion the truck when the bags are deflated. With that much lift, stabilizing the big Ford was critical, so six Sway-A-Way shocks were added with four up front and two in the rear providing genuine off-road capability. A Sway-A-Way steering stabilizer, custom-fabricated sway bar, and new pitman arm completed the suspension mods.

The final step was extending the stock brake lines to compensate for the lift. Once all the hardware was in place, an appropriately larger set of wheels was in order. The truck now rolls on 24-inch chrome Mazzi Hulk rims and 38x14-R24 Kumho M/T rubber.

When it's time to demonstrate the truck's adjustable altitude, the AVS seven-way control box, mounted just above the windshield, gives Shannon complete control over the air suspension. This allows him to control each of the four wheels individually-pancake all four, go side to side, or drop the front and rear.

Engine modifications to the twin-turbo Power Stroke 6.4L diesel have been minimal, since it was already strong. A cold-air intake, an SCT Live Wire programmer, and a 4-inch straight-pipe with an 8-inch tip team up to create a significant boost in horsepower and torque. Power gets to the ground through the stock Ford automatic transmission and transfer case.

Exterior upgrades to the copper orange-and-tan truck include a billet grille, Recon chrome and lighting package, and a high-powered Go Light mounted on the roof. A Recon LED bar in the tailgate is effective, day or night. The F-250 bed was equipped with an off-road tire mount that locks down the big spare tire.

What looks like a custom toolbox is actually the heart of the air suspension system, holding the Oasis air compressor, Danz valves, and extra battery. Hidden underneath is the 20-gallon oxygen bottle that was pressed into service as a reserve tank. For a little extra fun, the multi-trumpet air horns from Horn Blaster let folks know when Shannon is in town.

Inside, the King Ranch package was already luxurious from the factory but was made even better thanks to the new aftermarket stereo that begins with a Pioneer double DIN head unit-complete with CD, DVD, and MP3 capability. It feeds the upgraded Kicker component sets in the factory door locations. There's a separate Kicker 660-watt amp that powers the three Kicker 10-inch subs and four 5-inch mids located in their own enclosure behind the rear seat. Special thanks to Sound Waves in Albany, Georgia, for the install.

The completed truck is great fun to drive and has been the kind of homework project every student would welcome. Not only did the conversion provide Shannon with a valuable understanding of what it takes to create a lifted truck, the big Ford will also act as a rolling business card once he gets closer to his dream of opening his own business.

His second long-term goal was to see his truck featured in his favorite magazine, and as you can see, he has accomplished that as well. As a final note, Shannon is toying with the idea of seeing how well the new high-tech suspension responds when he gets a little air. We are confident it will work just fine, but just in case, we're glad we finished the photo shoot first!

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