Military picks Skydex to supply helmet pads

Little Centennial company wins big contract for kits to reduce head injuries

By Jeff Smith, Rocky Mountain News
November 7, 2006

A Centennial firm has won a multimillion-dollar contract to supply 120,000 helmet pad kits to U.S. soldiers to help protect them from head injuries.

Skydex Technologies Inc. of Centennial will provide the kits to ADS Inc. to be distributed to the Air Force.

"We're an eight-person company, so you can tell how meaningful (the contract) is," said Michael Buchen, Skydex chief executive officer.

He said the company, which started in 1999 to design padding for athletic shoes, has been working hard in the military area, and "it's finally starting to bear fruit."

Buchen said he couldn't disclose the exact amount of the award but said it was in the several million-dollar range and by far the largest military-related contract to date.

In addition, various Army bases around the country, including Fort Carson, have ordered a total of more than 30,000 helmet pad kits from Skydex.

Skydex also is in the running to have its patented elastic polymer components included in the military's new advanced combat helmet.

Brain injuries have been referred to as the "signature wound" in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to an article last year in The New England Journal of Medicine, protective gear such as Kevlar helmets have improved survival rates in the war in Iraq compared with the Vietnam War. But blasts from explosives have resulted in thousands of injuries, many similar to shaken-baby syndrome.

In the case of the Air Force contract, the Skydex pad kit will be used to upgrade or retrofit an old, post-Vietnam War Kevlar helmet.

"It makes it from an impact standpoint as protective as the new Kevlar helmet," Buchen said.

The Skydex technology consists of polymers molded into a spongy two-hemisphere shape, likes halves of a ball. The technology is designed to better absorb the impact of an explosion than traditional cushioning materials such as foam or rubber.

The Skydex materials also require less space. Buchen said the components also dry quickly.

Skydex can be used for different applications by changing the materials and geometry of the design.

The Air Force deal won't result in a lot of new jobs because Skydex outsources most of its work. It uses outside salespeople, with ADS serving as its military distributor, and Skydex components are made in a Nike manufacturing plant in St. Louis. Buchen said Skydex probably would hire three additional people.

The company's technology also is being used in an NFL football helmet and in a number of popular consumer products, including various models of Pearl Izumi running shoes, Ariat riding boots and Burton snowboard boots.

"We were a company headed down a more or less athletics (road)," Buchen said. "We really were called to the battlefield with this technology because existing technologies were foam. There aren't a lot of companies that know as much about protecting heads as we do."