A military weapon built for battlefield action around the world will hit the streets next Saturday in downtown Davenport for the 43rd annual running of the Quad-City Times Bix 7.
Positioned near the starting line at 4th and Brady streets, the jungle green cannon — mounted on the rear of a matching armored Humvee — will help kick off the seven-mile road race.
It marks the third consecutive year that Mandus Group will transport its self-propelled howitzer from its Rock Island headquarters to the event, which is expected to draw upward of 14,000 runners and walkers.
Fully loaded, the cannon coined the Hawkeye fires off 105mm rounds that can destroy a target up to seven miles away. On race day, however, operators will load a 8-gauge shotgun blank into the breech of the gun to produce a blast and a cloud of smoke for effect.
The sound, which one company representative compared to a firecracker explosion, should not startle participants or spectators.
“You can hear it, but there’s just so much noise and commotion down there it’s not as loud as you would think," said Kris Jansen, who co-owns Mandus Group.
'Fired up to run'
Quad-City Times publisher Debbie Anselm will fire the official starting gun at the same time, race director Ed Froehlich said.
The simultaneous shots will follow Jack Carey’s singing of “God Bless the USA” and the national anthem.
And for the fifth straight year, a squadron of four vintage aircraft will appear above the crowd to honor military men and women, who can register for the race for free.
“It’s very moving,” Froehlich said of the “patriotic” start. “It’s a great way to get fired up to run up the Brady Street hill.”
Both the flyover and the cannon launch are results of efforts by longtime Bix 7 volunteer Jerry Dykes, who formerly worked for Mandus Group.
The retired U.S. Army master sergeant has made it part of his mission to increase the military presence at the race, Froehlich said.
Because their creation has become an integral part of the pre-race festivities, Mandus Group officials now treat Bix 7 as a traditional get-together.
“We all go down there with our families,” said Sam Kupresin, who co-owns the company with Jansen and his two brothers, Kevin and Keith. “We think the Bix is a great event; it's always been very patriotically oriented."
The Jansens founded their business in 1998, where many successful organizations have started — in a garage.
Almost 20 years later, the engineering and manufacturing firm, which specializes in the development of military equipment, employs 22 full- and part-time staffers.
They primarily work out of a nondescript facility at 2408 4th Ave. in Rock Island, where they store their green cannon and a desert tan one.
The rig hit the mobile artillery market last year, following a five-year period of designing, building and testing. Although Mandus Group has not yet sold any units, which cost slightly more than $1.5 million, they have several irons in the fire.
"We're getting a lot of interest from the U.S. Army, the Marines and many foreign countries," said Kupresin, who noted many of the cannon's parts were manufactured at the Rock Island Arsenal.
Touted as the lightest mobile weapon system of its kind, it weighs 13,300 pounds without ammo. The 33-caliber barrel measures almost 11½ feet.
On board, the machine's recoil mechanism, which basically serves as a buffer between the gun and the vehicle, separates this self-propelled howitzer from others.
The patented component reduces the force of each discharge by 70 percent, allowing users to equip light-weight vehicles, such as AM General's Humvee, with the weapon, Kupresin said.
"They (AM General) looked at our technology, and they said, "Wow, this is a game-changer on the battlefield,'" he added. "No one else in the world has this recoil mechanism."
About 5:45 a.m. next Saturday, a Mandus Group representative plans to drive the Hawkeye to the starting line, where those who want to learn more about the cannon can check it out themselves.