A little more than 11 years ago, U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Lonnie Young was shot in his left shoulder, the bullet traveling across his back, stopping just short of his spine.
Young also received facial injuries from shrapnel from another bullet during that firefight in An Najaf, an Iraqi city about 100 miles south of Baghdad. Looking back now, Young says if he had had sufficient shoulder protection on his body armor, he might have been spared the injuries.
Lyman Bishop, a mechanical engineer living just south of Kalispell, had heard this and other stories from friends in the military, and wanted to do something about it.
He started Hoplite Armor, LLC, a company that designs lightweight body armor, in January. Now, the company is releasing its new design for a hard-armor shoulder plate system, weighing in at 1.1 pounds each.
“A very good friend of mine took a shot in the shoulder,” Bishop said. “All of these stories – the very real threat of lateral impact – that’s really where it started.”
Nine months after starting the company, Bishop has found investors and filled numerous orders of his polyethylene plates, which are nestled into a universal plate framing system developed in conjunction with S&S Precision of Virginia.
The entire set of Hoplite body armor, which includes chest and back plates, weighs about 10 pounds. Bishop said he’s beta tested the design with military and police, and said they have approved.
“The response has been overwhelming,” Bishop said.
Humans have created body armor for millennia, initially using skins for shields and protective clothing. Then came wooden shields, and when humans began metal-smithing in earnest, metal became the go-to for shields and armor.
Body armor has also been made of silk and other soft garments. It has evolved as weapons have evolved, with bulletproof vests and flak jackets making their initial appearances around World War II.
Kevlar fabric came about in the 1970s. In today’s modern age, body armor is more likely to be made of thick steel plate or ceramic in an attempt to be better protected from military rifle rounds.
Bishop said his shoulder plates increase the level of protection that current shoulder plates offer, moving up from pistol armor to threat-level III rifle protection.
His design is meant to keep the wearer light and free for movement, he said, without side plates and with space between the shoulder and chest and back plates.
“It gives you protection for the vital organs, but it also gives you range of motion,” Bishop said.
When designing his new body armor, Bishop said he stayed away from steel plates because they’re known to fragment, and that shrapnel can be dangerous. The polyethylene in his plates absorbs the bullets instead of shattering them, he said.
It’s more expensive – a set of black Hoplite armor runs at $1,775, whereas metal plating runs in the hundreds of dollars – but Bishop believes it’s worth it. And though it’s made for military and police, Bishop’s company will also sell the armor to civilians.
“I feel that it’s very important to get good equipment into people’s hands,” Bishop said.
Hoplite is working on a couple of contracts with military, police, and defense contractors, he said, such as a potential deal to sell hundreds of units to large national distribution and several elite swat teams in the U.S.
Bishop’s family has a history with the military, with his father working as a defense contractor and his grandfather working in Army intelligence. Bishop said he would have liked to serve in the armed forces, but he married young and his wife didn’t want him to.
Building body armor, which he has done with various companies since at least 2005, was a suitable compromise for the couple.
“I looked for ways that I could serve my country and still keep my wife,” he said.
For more information on Hoplite, visit www.hoplitearmor.com or call 855-276-6701.