When Jim Burke graduated from high school, he thought he was going to go into electrical engineering. The United States Army had other plans for him, and after he served the two years that he was obligated to by the ROTC program at Texas A&M University, he decided to stay in the service. He spent much of his career in Army Aviation and more than half of his career was devoted to research and development. His assignments included several projects involving “vertical lift” aircraft, including the XV-15 (tilt-rotor), now called the V-22. As a part of this arrangement, he actively supported research for both the Army Laboratory and NASA. He also spent a four-year tour at the Pentagon before retiring as a lieutenant colonel.
After retiring in 1980, he served as program manager for Tracor Inc.; vice president of BEI Defense Systems Co.; and vice president of government affairs, for CMS, Inc. It was with the latter two companies that Burke spent a significant amount of time dealing with munitions. Thus, it came as no surprise when the CEO of a company called BlastGard International, Inc. found Burke and asked him to join the company.
“They didn’t know much about the defense business and needed a consultant,” Burke said. “It turned out to be very interesting.”
In this case, he would be working yet again on something new. Whereas munitions systems are predicated on developing defense tools to put down aggression. With “BlastGard,” Burke would get involved with the other side of the curve — developing a product to prevent perpetrators from using munitions.
THE PRODUCT that he would be working on is called “BlastWrap,” which he describes it as “no more than a peat humus material with a fire quenching salt.”
These materials are contained inside a packing material not unlike the bubble wrap used for packaging, albeit with larger "bubbles."
“It defuses the blast wave and makes it less effective,” Burke said. “It dissipates rapidly and the salts put out the fireball. It keeps the fragments from going out and killing people.”
While there are several potential applications for this product, the first one that it is being used with are bomb-proof trash receptacles. “BlastGard” has teamed with a business partner to build the receptacles which have the “BlastWrap” built within two layers around the base of the container, as well as in the lid.
Their first customer is Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. They have purchased 200 of the containers at $3,000 apiece and are awaiting delivery.
“There’s not one trash receptacle in Metro; they took them all out,” Burke said.
Dana Kauffman, chairman of Metro's Board of Directors, is not aware of the specifics, but said, “The purchase is a part of my ‘back to basics’ effort at Metro. Frankly, so much trash has accumulated on the floor of some rail cars that I almost feel like a hamster entering a cage instead of an official on his way downtown. I'm sure that with the cans in place, we'll be back to being the system the rest of the nation admires for its overall cleanliness.”
Burke said that they’ve also been asked to provide the containers for Amtrak. And while, the United States does not yet have standards for blast-proofing products, “BlastGard” helped the United Kingdom establish their standards and would work with whoever requests them for the United States.
IN ADDITION to trash containers, the U.S. government and other companies are looking at BlastGard’s product for use in baggage containers; transport vehicles; magazines; explosives storage units; IED and EOD threat management; wall components; barriers and ordnance containers.
Burke has briefed members of the Department of Defense, and he said they could see potential for using this product to move munitions around the country. He also explained that if “BlastWrap” had been used in the baggage container of the American Boeing 747 that was bombed and crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland, the blast would have been contained. There would be smoke, of course, but it would not have the devastating effect of a full blast.
Burke feels like they are really providing an important service and said, “It’s been fun for me to participate since I know the munitions industry so well. It gives me a good feeling to be a part of the team.”