Sign up
Title:
Continous ballistic vest
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
A ballistic garment (10) including tensioned body panels (12, 22, 32 and 38) to resist successive ballistic impacts.


Inventors:
Wells Jr., James D. (Tallahassee, FL, US)
Application Number:
11/568364
Publication Date:
07/26/2007
Filing Date:
04/26/2005
Primary Class:
International Classes:
F41H1/02
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:
20090211001MULTI-PIECE PROTECTOR FOR A BASEBALL CATCHERAugust, 2009Weimer et al.
20090222971Anti-Rollover Infant Sleep GarmentSeptember, 2009Chen
20050235395Cap having a visor with soft inner edgeOctober, 2005Tseng
20100012692Helmet Attachment PlatformJanuary, 2010Harris et al.
20070067888Perspiration absorption deviceMarch, 2007Manier
20090126823Machine for Weaving Seamless Garment, a Process Therefor and Seamless Garment Thus ObtainedMay, 2009Yengkhom
20090260133Impact Absorbing Frame and Layered Structure System for Safety HelmetsOctober, 2009Del Rosario
20090183301SPORTS FAN HELMETJuly, 2009Brown et al.
20080004588Perspiration absorbent pads for female breastsJanuary, 2008Gavitt
20090210999Helmet with ski pass holderAugust, 2009Faron-french
20040031081Trash apron and method of useFebruary, 2004Eaves et al.
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
BAKER & DANIELS LLP (300 NORTH MERIDIAN STREET, SUITE 2700, INDIANAPOLIS, IN, 46204, US)
Claims:
1. A ballistic resistant garment for protecting a wearer from penetration by a projectile, the garment comprising: a back panel configured to cover the width of the back and extending from the shoulders to the waist of a wearer; a front panel configured to cover the width of the chest and extending from the shoulders to the waist of a wearer; a first side panel coupling the back panel to the front panel and configured to cover a first side of the wearer from the axilla to the waist; the back panel, the front panel, and the first side panel being formed from ballistic material configured to resist penetration therethrough by a projectile; and wherein the first side panel is directly coupled to the back panel and the front panel, such that the back panel, the front panel, and the first side panel are configured to be in tension around the body of the wearer and return substantially to an original shape after an impact from a projectile.

2. The ballistic resistant garment of claim 1, wherein the back panel, the front panel, and the first side panel are formed from a single continuous sheet of ballistic material.

3. The ballistic resistant garment of claim 1, wherein the first side panel includes a joint secured by a rigid coupler.

4. The ballistic resistant garment of claim 1, wherein the tension is further configured to resist backface deformation of the back panel, the front panel, and the first side panel in response to impact from a projectile.

5. The ballistic resistant garment of claim 1, wherein the back panel and the front panel define left and right shoulder portions configured to be coupled and extend over the left and right shoulders of a wearer.

6. The ballistic resistant garment of claim 1, further comprising a second side panel coupling the back panel and the front panel, the second side panel being configured to cover a second side of the wearer from the axilla to the waist, the second side panel being directly coupled to the back panel and the front panel.

7. The ballistic resistant garment of claim 6, wherein the back panel, the front panel, the first side panel and the second side panel are formed from a single continuous sheet of ballistic material.

8. The ballistic resistant garment of claim 1, further comprising a semi-rigid coupling connecting the back panel and the front panel proximate a second side of the wearer

9. The ballistic resistant garment of claim 8, wherein the semi-rigid coupling includes a body having a first end and an opposing second end, the first end connected to the back panel and the second end connected to the front panel, the semi-rigid coupling further including an elastic mode of operation where the body is stretched between the first end and the second end over a predetermined length, and a rigid mode of operation where the body is configured to not stretch beyond the predetermined length.

10. A ballistic resistant garment for protecting a wearer from penetration by a projectile, the garment comprising: a back panel configured to cover the width of the back and extending from the shoulders to the waist of a wearer; a front panel configured to cover the width of the chest and extending from the shoulders to the waist of a wearer; a connecting panel coupling the back panel and the front panel; the back panel, the front panel, and the connecting panel being formed of multiple layers of ballistic resistant material; and the ballistic resistant material of the connecting panel including an inner layer and an outer layer, the inner layer having a length shorter than the outer layer.

11. The ballistic resistant garment of claim 10, wherein the connecting panel comprises: a side panel coupling the back panel to the front panel and configured to cover a side of the wearer from the axilla to the waist; and wherein the back panel, the front panel, and the side panel are continuous and formed from an uninterrupted sheet of ballistic material configured to resist penetration therethrough by a projectile, such that impact upon any one of the back panel, the front panel, and the side panel results in tension within an adjacent one of the back panel, the front panel, and the side panel.

12. The ballistic resistant garment of claim 11, further comprising a second side panel coupling the back panel and the front panel, the second side panel being configured to cover a second side of the wearer from the axilla to the waist, the second side panel being continuous with the back panel and the front panel.

13. The ballistic resistant garment of claim 11, further comprising a limited travel coupler connecting the back panel and the front panel proximate a second side of the wearer

14. The ballistic resistant garment of claim 13, wherein the limited travel coupler includes a body having a first end and an opposing second end, the first end connected to the back panel and the second end connected to the front panel, the limited travel coupler further including an elastic mode of operation where the body is stretched between the first end and the second end over a predetermined length, and a rigid mode of operation where the body is configured to not stretch beyond the predetermined length.

15. A ballistic resistant garment for protecting a wearer from penetration by a projectile, the garment comprising: a back panel of ballistic resistant material, the back panel including a front face and a back face; a front panel of ballistic resistant material, the front panel including a front face and a back face; and a coupler including a body having a first end coupled to move with the back panel and a second end coupled to move with the front panel, the coupler comprising a side panel integrally formed with the back panel and the front panel from a continuous sheet of ballistic material, the coupler being configured to tension the back panel and the front panel around the body of the wearer such that each of the back panel and the front panel resist back face deformation in response to impact from a projectile.

16. The ballistic resistant garment of claim 15, wherein the tension is further configured to cause each of the back panel and the front panel to return substantially to an original shape after an impact from a projectile.

17. (canceled)

18. The ballistic resistant garment of claim 15, wherein: the side panel couples the back panel to the front panel and is configured to cover a side of the wearer from the axilla to the waist; the back panel, the front panel, and the side panel are formed from a continuous sheet of ballistic material configured to resist penetration therethrough by a projectile; and the back panel, the front panel, and the side panel are configured to be in tension around the body of the wearer, such that each of the back panel, the front panel, and the first side panel returns substantially to an original shape after an impact from a projectile.

19. The ballistic resistant garment of claim 15, further comprising left and right shoulder portions configured to couple the back panel and the front panel, and to extend over the left and right shoulders of a wearer.

20. The ballistic resistant garment of claim 15, wherein the coupler connects the back panel and the front panel proximate a side of the wearer.

21. The ballistic resistant garment of claim 15, further comprising a carrier receiving at least one of the back panel and the front panel and including openings for receiving the first end and the second end of the coupler.

22. 22-26. (canceled)

27. The ballistic resistant garment of claim 15, further comprising a reinforcing edge member secured to at least one of the back panel and the front panel, wherein at least one of the first end and the second end of the coupler is secured to the reinforcing edge member.

28. A ballistic resistant garment comprising: a panel formed of ballistic resistant material; and a coupler connected to the panel and including a body having a first end and an opposing second end, the body including a resilient portion and a substantially rigid portion, the resilient portion configured to permit the body to stretch, and the rigid portion configured to prevent the body from stretching more than a predetermined length defined between the first end and the second end.

29. The ballistic resistant garment of claim 28, wherein the rigid portion is embedded within the resilient portion, the rigid portion including fibers arranged in a serpentine path when the body is permitted to stretch, and the fibers arranged in a straight path when the body is prevented from stretching beyond the predetermined length.

30. The ballistic resistant garment of claim 28, wherein the coupler is directly secured to the panel and is configured to tension the panel to resist backface deformation in response to impact from a projectile.

31. The ballistic resistant garment of claim 30, further comprising a carrier receiving the panel and including an opening for receiving the coupler.

32. The ballistic resistant garment of claim 28, further comprising a reinforcing edge member secured to the panel, wherein a the coupler is secured to the reinforcing edge member.

33. A ballistic resistant garment for protecting a wearer from impact strikes from at least one of a ballistic projectile, high speed shrapnel, explosive force, and a sharp edged object, the garment comprising: a back panel; a front panel; a connecting panel coupling the back panel to the front panel; the back panel, the front panel, and the connecting panel being formed from ballistic resistant material; and wherein the back panel, the front panel, and the connecting panel are coupled together through at least one of a continuous sheet of ballistic resistant material, a rigid coupler, and a limited travel coupler such that the back panel, the front panel, and the connecting panel are in tension around the body of the wearer for limiting shrinkage of the impacted panel during initial and subsequent strikes.

34. The ballistic resistant garment of claim 33, wherein the impacted panel is configured to return substantially to an original shape after a strike.

35. The ballistic resistant garment of claim 33, wherein the impacted panel is configured to resist backface deformation after a strike.

36. The ballistic resistant garment of claim 33, wherein the connecting panel comprises left and right shoulder portions configured to couple the back panel and the front panel, and to extend over the left and right shoulders of a wearer.

37. The ballistic resistant garment of claim 33, wherein the connecting panel connects the back panel and the front panel proximate a side of the wearer.

38. The ballistic resistant garment of claim 33, wherein the connecting panel comprises a side panel integrally formed with the back panel and the front panel from a continuous sheet of ballistic material.

39. The ballistic resistant garment of claim 33, wherein the connecting panel couples the back panel with the front panel through a rigid coupler.

40. The ballistic resistant garment of claim 33, wherein the connecting panel couples the back panel with the front panel through a limited travel coupler having a resilient portion and a substantially rigid portion configured to limit travel of the resilient portion.

41. The ballistic resistant garment of claim 33, further comprising a reinforcing edge member secured to at least one of the back panel and the front panel, wherein the connecting panel is secured to the reinforcing edge member.

Description:

This application claims priority to U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/565,148, filed Apr. 26, 2004, the disclosure of which is expressly incorporated by reference herein.

BACKGROUND AND SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to ballistic garments and, more particularly, to a ballistic vest having improved resistance to successive ballistic impacts.

Ballistic garments, such as vests including multi-layered ballistic or body armor panels are well-known in the art. Moreover, such ballistic vests are typically formed of independent body armor panels that are received within a fabric pouch or carrier. Upon being impacted by ballistic projectiles, the panels function independently deforming within the individual carriers. Such deformation causes the panels to lose their shape and may create openings or gaps in the areas between the panels, resulting in increased vulnerability to secondary projectiles. The independent functioning of the panels increases the thickness and stiffness required to stop projectiles. Depending upon the duty design or anticipated threat, the panels may have various amounts of overlap to compensate for edge deficiencies and to stop ballistic rounds fired at the wearer. In such conventional body armor panels received within carriers, fasteners may extend from the carrier to assist in maintaining an overlapping arrangement.

Conventional body armor panels located in carriers may float or move on the chest and the back of the wearer. Such panels, while usually successful in resisting initial impact from a ballistic projectile, tend to displace inwardly at the point of impact. Moreover, each panel tends to function independently, exhibiting substantial back face deformation (or rearward travel into the body of the wearer) in response to impact. Given successive ballistic impacts, there is gradual shrinkage of the coverage of the panel. As such, successive impacts reduce the protection of the garment by reducing the area of coverage. Consequently, the ability to resist multiple impacts without exposing additional body area has become an increasing concern.

As noted above, one proposed solution has been to provide a substantial overlap between body armor panels on severe duty tactical vests to account for this deficiency. This adds significant extra weight and expense to the vest, and the design is still not optimized to absorb the forces of striking projectiles. While it has also been proposed to place the body armor panels in tension through the use of elastic bands, such a design relies upon securement to an outer carrier. Further, the elastic bands do not provide a given degree of certainty with respect to applying tension within the panels.

According to an illustrative embodiment of the present invention, a ballistic resistant garment for protecting a wearer from penetration by a projectile includes a back panel configured to cover the width of the back and extending from the shoulders to the waist of a wearer. A front panel is configured to cover the width of the chest and extends from the shoulders to the waist of a wearer. A first side panel couples the back panel to the front panel and is configured to cover a first side of the wearer from the axilla to the waist. The back panel, the front panel, and the first side panel are formed from ballistic material configured to resist penetration therethrough by a projectile. The first side panel is directly coupled to the back panel and the front panel, such that the back panel, the front panel, and the first side panel are configured to be in tension around the body of the wearer and return substantially to an original shape after an impact from a projectile.

According to a further illustrative embodiment of the present invention, a ballistic resistant garment for protecting a wearer from penetration by a projectile includes a back panel configured to cover the width of the back and extending from the shoulders to the waist of a wearer. A front panel is configured to cover the width of the chest and extends from the shoulders to the waist of a wearer. A connecting panel couples the back panel and the front panel. The back panel, the front panel, and the connecting panel are formed of multiple layers of ballistic resistant material. The ballistic resistant material of the connecting panel includes an inner layer and an outer layer, wherein the inner layer has a length shorter than the outer layer.

According to yet another illustrative embodiment of the present invention, a ballistic resistant garment for protecting a wearer from penetration by a projectile includes a back panel of ballistic resistant material, the back panel including a front face and a back face. The garment further includes a front panel of ballistic resistant material, the front panel including a front face and a back face. A coupler includes a body having a first end rigidly coupled to move with the back panel and a second end rigidly coupled to move with the front panel. The coupler is configured to tension the back panel and the front panel such that each of the back panel and the front panel resist back face deformation in response to impact from a projectile.

According to a further illustrative embodiment of the present invention, a ballistic resistant garment includes a panel formed of ballistic resistant material, and a coupler connected to the panel and including a body having a first end and an opposing second end. The body includes a resilient portion and a substantially rigid portion wherein the resilient portion is configured to permit the body to stretch, and the rigid portion is configured to prevent the body from stretching more than a predetermined length defined between the first end and the second end.

According to another illustrative embodiment of the present invention, a ballistic resistant garment includes a back panel, a front panel, and a connecting panel coupling the back panel to the front panel. The back panel, the front panel, and the connecting panel are formed from a ballistic material. The back panel, the front panel, and the connecting panel are coupled together through at least one of a continuous sheet of ballistic resistant material, a rigid coupler, and a limited travel coupler such that the back panel, the front panel, and the connecting panel are in tension around the body of the wearer for limiting shrinkage of the impacted panel during initial and subsequent strikes.

Additional features and advantages of the present invention will become apparent to those skilled in the art upon consideration of the following detailed description of the illustrative embodiment exemplifying the best mode of carrying out the invention as presently perceived.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The detailed description of the drawings particularly refers to the accompanying figures in which:

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of an illustrative embodiment ballistic garment according to the present invention, with the carrier removed for clarity and a wearer represented in phantom;

FIG. 2 is a cross-sectional view taken along line 2-2 of FIG. 1;

FIG. 2A is a detail view of FIG. 2;

FIG. 3 is a perspective view similar to FIG. 1 of a further illustrative embodiment ballistic garment of the present invention, with the carrier removed for clarity and a wearer represented in phantom;

FIG. 4 is a cross-sectional view taken along line 4-4 of FIG. 3;

FIG. 5 is a top plan view illustrating a conventional “Weaver stance”, where the left side of a right-handed wearer is exposed to an incoming ballistic projectile;

FIG. 6 is a top plan view of a further illustrative embodiment ballistic garment, showing couplers at both the left and right sides thereof;

FIG. 7 is a detail view of the coupler at the left side of the ballistic garment of FIG. 4;

FIG. 8 is a detail view of a further illustrative embodiment coupler at the left side of the ballistic garment of FIG. 4;

FIG. 9 is a plan view of an illustrative embodiment coupler of the present invention;

FIG. 10 is a plan view of the coupler of FIG. 9, in a fully stretched configuration;

FIG. 11 is a plan view of a further illustrative embodiment coupler of the present invention;

FIG. 12 is a top plan view of the illustrative embodiment ballistic vest of FIG. 3, with a cut-away of the shoulder portions and couplers, and the panels positioned in a planar configuration for illustrative purposes;

FIG. 13 is a top plan view of a further illustrative embodiment ballistic garment of the present invention, showing the back panel and the front panel positioned in a planar configuration for illustrative purposes;

FIG. 14 is a top plan view similar to FIG. 13, showing a further illustrative embodiment ballistic garment of the present invention; and

FIG. 15 is a cross-sectional view taken along line 15-15 of FIG. 1.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Referring initially to FIGS. 1 and 2, an illustrative embodiment ballistic vest 10 of the present invention includes a back panel 12 which is configured to cover the width of the back 14 of a wearer 16. The back panel 12 is further configured to extend from the shoulders 18 to the waist 20 of the wearer 16. A front panel 22 is configured to cover the width of the chest 24 of the wearer 16, and to extend from the shoulders 18 to the waist 20 of the wearer 16. The back panel 12 and the front panel 22 cooperate to define a first, or left, shoulder panel or portion 26, and a second, or right, shoulder panel or portion 28. The shoulder portions 26 and 28 are configured to extend over the shoulders 18 of the wearer 16. As further detailed herein, the shoulder portions 26 and 28 may be formed as a single continuous unit with the back panel 12 and the front panel 22. Alternatively, each of the shoulder portions 26 and 28 may include a joint having a coupler, such as a seam 30 (FIG. 3), coupling the back panel 12 and the front panel 22.

A first, or left, side panel 32 couples the back panel 12 to the front panel 22 and is configured to cover a first, or left, side 34 of the wearer 16 from the axilla 36 to the waist 20. Similarly, a second, or right, side panel 38, couples the back panel 12 to the front panel 22 and is configured to cover a second, or right, side 40 of the wearer 16 from the axilla 36 to the waist 20.

In the illustrative embodiment of FIGS. 1 and 2, the back panel 12, the front panel 22, the first side panel 26, and the second side panel 38 are all formed from a single continuous sheet of ballistic material 42 which is configured to resist penetration therethrough by a projectile. More particularly, as shown in FIG. 2A, the continuous sheet of ballistic material 42 may be formed from a plurality of discrete fiber layers 44. Fiber layers 44 may be, for example, either woven aramid fibers or polyethylene fibers disposed in an orthogonal fashion. In one illustrative embodiment, the layers 44 may be formed of paraphenylene terephthalamide, commonly referred to as Kevlar®, available from DuPont Advanced Fiber Systems of Richmond, Va. The panels 12, 22, 32, and 38 may be received within a carrier 46 which illustratively includes an outer layer 48 and an inner layer 50. The outer layer 48 and the inner layer 50 are illustratively secured to each other along a periphery thereof for defining an enclosure which receives the respective panels 12, 22, 32, and 38. The carrier 48 may be formed of a nylon or other similar material that is durable and easily cleaned.

As shown in FIGS. 1 and 2, the back panel 12, the front panel 22, and the side panels 32 and 38 are illustratively configured to extend uninterrupted around the torso 51 of the wearer 16. Because the vest 10 is continuous, it tends to spread applied forces more consistently around the torso 51. Further, the panels 12, 22, 32, and 38 are configured to be placed in tension and in closely tailored relation to the torso 51 of the wearer 16. More particularly, the vest 10 illustratively uses the torso 51 itself to place the fiber layers 44 in tension. Such tension within the panels 12, 22, 32, and 38 causes the panels to substantially return to an original shape quickly following impact from a projectile. As such, the panels 12, 22, 32, and 38 are configured to maximize surface area coverage around the torso 51 of the wearer 16, thus facilitating improved ballistic protection in response to successive impacts from ballistic projectiles.

Further, each of the panels 12, 22, 32, and 38 includes a front face 52 and a back face 53. Tension within the panels 12, 22, 32, and 38 causes resistance to back face 53 deformation in response to impact from a projectile, thereby reducing localized blunt force trauma and improving performance of the vest 10 in response to the initial and subsequent strikes. More particularly, the tension in the vest 10, by reducing back face deformation, facilitates the ballistic panels 12, 22, 32, and 38 remaining in an original protective position if additional impacts are applied. The tension in the vest 10 limits the shrinkage in the impacted panel 12, 22, 32, 38 during initial and successive strikes, thereby preventing substantial reduction in the area of protective coverage.

In one illustrative embodiment, the shoulder portions 26, 28 and side panels 32, 38 may be of reduced thickness relative to the back panel 12 and the front panel 22. In other words, the number of layers 44 of ballistic material 42 may be less in the shoulder portions 26, 28 and the side panels 32, 38 than in the back panel 12 and the front panel 22. Illustratively, one-half of the layers 44 could extend from the waist 20 over the shoulders 18 of the wearer 16, and one-half of the layers 44 could extend circumferentially around the waist 20 of the wearer. These respective “half layers” 44 could then be secured together, for example by quilt stitching, such that full number of layers 44 are positioned within the back panel 12 and the front panel 22, and half the number of layers 44 are positioned within the shoulder portions 26, 28 and the side panels 32, 38. However, the layers 44 together still define at least one continuous sheet of ballistic material defining the entire vest 10.

Referring now to FIGS. 3 and 4, a further illustrative embodiment ballistic vest 10′ is shown as being substantially similar to the ballistic vest 10 of FIGS. 1 and 2. However, the vest 10′ is illustrated as including an interrupted adjustable second side panel 54. The second side panel 54 is defined by opposing edge portions 56 and 58 of the back panel 12 and the front panel 22, respectively. Vest 10′ provides for limited adjustment based upon the use of semi-rigid or limited travel couplers 60a and 60b. Use of the couplers 60 makes the vest 10′ less rigid and provides more flexibility between the panels, thereby accounting for the inhalation and expulsion of breath, for expansion of the torso 51 when sitting or moving, and for readjustment due to weight gain/loss. However, the couplers 60 provide limited flexibility and are therefore “semi-rigid” so that the vest 10′ continues to tension the ballistic panels and effectively operate as a “continuous” vest 10′.

Illustratively, the position of the adjustable second side panel 54 on the left side 34 or the right side 40 of the wearer 16 is determined based upon the well-known “Weaver stance”, as illustrated in FIG. 5. This is a common stance for defensive purposes and is defined by the body of the wearer 16 neither facing straight toward, nor perpendicular to, the subject 62. The wearer 16 is angled to the subject 62, usually with the wearer's 16 strong side facing away from the subject 62 presenting a threat, such as a ballistic projectile 63 (a right-handed person 16 exposes the left side 34 partially in this stance). In this illustrative embodiment, the exposed side panel 32 of the vest 10′ is rigidly connected, such as by using a continuous sheet of ballistic material or a rigid coupler (not shown). The rigid coupler may comprise sewing stitches or other similar securing means, such as wires and cables. The rigid coupler is configured to prevent movement while drawing the panels 12, 22, and 32 tight when challenged by a ballistic impact. For example, the rigid coupler of the joint on the non-adjustment, exposed side panel 32 could include a fastener composed of a half-lap (where one-half the layers 44 from the front panel 22 overlap with the other half of the layers 44 from the back panel 12). The couplers 60 are placed on the side panel 54 of the vest 10′, which is less likely to be exposed to the ballistic projectile 63. As may be appreciated, the side panels 54 and 32 would be reversed for a left-handed person.

FIG. 6 shows a further illustrative embodiment ballistic vest 10″, having interrupted adjustable first and second side panels 63 and 54. In such an embodiment, similar couplers 60 may be used for both panels 63 and 54.

As with the ballistic vest 10 of FIGS. 1 and 2, it is possible to simply stitch or otherwise rigidly join the edge portions 56 and 58 of side panels 63 and 54 with no means of adjustment. The vest 10′ could then simply be slipped over the head and arms of the wearer 16 for placement and removal. In the illustrative embodiments of FIGS. 3 and 4, the back panel 12, front panel 22, and right side panel 32 may be cut from a single continuous piece of ballistic material and semi-rigid couplers 60 used at the left side panel 54 to couple the side seam at edge portions 56 and 58.

Referring now to FIGS. 7-10, each coupler 60 includes a body 64 having a first end 66 rigidly and directly secured to the edge portion 56 of the back panel 12, and a second end 68 rigidly and directly secured to the edge portion 58 of the front panel 22. As shown in FIG. 7, the first end 66 of each coupler 60 is directly coupled to at least one of the fiber layers 44 of the edge portion 56 to prevent movement therebetween. Similarly, the second end 68 of each coupler 60 is directly coupled to at least one of the fiber layers 44 of the edge portion 58 to prevent movement therebetween.

The couplers 60 may be connected to the layers 44 in a variety of manners. Illustratively, the opposing ends 66 and 68 of the coupler 60 may be secured directly to the layers 44 through stitches 70 and 72. Alternatively, as shown in FIG. 8, one or either end of the coupler 60 may include a conventional fastener such as a hook and loop fastener 74 having a hook portion 76 fixed to the body 64 of the coupler 60 and a loop portion 78 fixed to the side panel 54.

In the further illustrative embodiment coupler 60′ as shown in FIG. 11, a zipper 80 is disposed intermediate the opposing ends 66 and 68. A first zipper track portion 82 is attached to a first portion 84 of the coupler, and a second zipper track portion 86 is coupled to a second portion 88 of the coupler 60. A plurality of different length second portions 88 may be provided thereby facilitating adjustment of the size of the vest 10′.

Other types of fasteners may also be used in place of couplers 60, such as hooks and eyes, or hooks and grommets. It is also envisioned that the two adjoining panels may be permanently coupled by means of D-rings, cam clamps, slide adjusters or similar means. A slide adjuster with a quick release could be utilized to remove the vest and a pull strap to adjust it when first placed on the wearer 16. Depending upon the width of the strap, it may be necessary to use more than one per side or other opening to provide a solid connection and keep the panels continuously supported and from deforming if challenged.

In a further illustrative embodiment, each panel 12, 22 may be restrained from movement relative to its respective carrier 46, and the respective ends 66, 68 of the coupler 60 rigidly and directly secured to the carrier 46. For example, a rough surfaced outer layer 48 and inner layer 50 of the carrier 46 may frictionally restrain the panel 12, 22 from movement relative thereto. Further, conventional fasteners, such as a hook and loop fastener, may be fixed inside of the carrier 46 and operably couple with the panel 12, 22 to prevent such relative movement.

It is envisioned that the edge reinforcement members as detailed in U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/625,417, filed Jul. 23, 2003, which is expressly incorporated by reference herein, may be utilized in connection with the vests 10, 10′, and 10″ of the present invention. The edge reinforcement members may comprise cords formed of ballistic resistant material secured to the peripheral edges of the vest 10, 10′, 10″ through conventional securing means, such as stitches. Using such edge reinforcement members would illustratively facilitate stitching through just enough layers 44 of ballistic material to provide the connective strength required. The edge reinforcement members would join all the layers 44 together, thereby holding the layers 44 of panels in alignment. Additionally, the couplers 60 may be attached directly to the edge reinforcement members or its securing means which, in turn, are rigidly secured to the respective panel 12, 22, 32, 38.

With further reference to FIGS. 3 and 4, each coupler 60 is configured to tension the back panel 12, the front panel 22, and the side panel 54 such that each of the panels resist backface deformation in response to impact from a projectile. More particularly, the tension in the panels 12, 22, and 54 is configured to cause each of the panels to return substantially to an original shape after impact from a projectile. Additionally, such initial deformation is smaller than if the vest 10′ was not in tension and the panels return quickly to their original shape.

With reference to FIGS. 9 and 10, each coupler 60 includes an elastic mode of operation where the body 64 is configured to be stretched between the first end 66 and the second end 68 to less than a predetermined length “l”, and a rigid mode of operation where the body 64 is stretched between the first end 66 and the second end 68 to the predetermined length “l”. Once stretched to the predetermined length “l”, the body 64 is configured not to be further stretched. More particularly, FIG. 9 illustrates the coupler 60 in a relaxed or unstretched condition, and FIG. 10 illustrates the coupler 60 in a fully stretched position.

In one illustrative embodiment, the body 64 of the coupler 60 includes a resilient portion 94 and a substantially rigid portion 96, the substantially rigid portion 96 being configured to limit the movement of the second end 68 relative to the first end 66. The substantially rigid portion 96 of the body 64 is embedded within the resilient portion 94. The resilient portion 94 may be composed of a gathered layer of fabric that has an elastic give that is limited by the rigid portion 96 when the fabric is stretched tight. The rigid portion 96 may comprise a relatively inflexible fabric. If the vest 10′ is challenged and the elastic gives until the surrounding fabric is drawn tight, the fabric then provides the solid connection desired. In one illustrative embodiment, the resilient portion 94 may be made with a true elastic or spandex that has a restraining fiber sewn, woven, knit or otherwise integrated therein, which defines the rigid portion 96. In one illustrative embodiment, this restraining fiber may be sewn in a zig-zag stitch that becomes straight as the elastic is stretched, thereby creating the solid rigid connection of limiting the travel of the panels.

FIG. 12 illustrates the ballistic vest of FIG. 3, with a cut-away of the shoulder portions 28, 30 and couplers 60, and the panels 12, 22, and 32 positioned in a planar configuration. As detailed herein, rigid couplers, or seams 30, may connect the respective shoulder portions 28, 30. As detailed above a similar seam may secure edge portions 56 and 58. The seams may be replaced with the semi-rigid couplers 60 as detailed herein to provide limited flexibility.

With reference now to the further illustrative embodiment vest 100 of FIG. 13, the shoulder portions 26 and 28 may be formed of a single continuous sheet of ballistic material with the back panel 12 and the front panel 22. In the further illustrative embodiment vest 110 of FIG. 14, the shoulder portions 26 and 28 may be replaced with couplers 60 of the type detailed herein. More particularly, the couplers 60 have limited flexibility and have ends 66 and 68 which are secured to move with the back panel 12 and the front panel 22, respectively.

As shown in FIG. 15, each shoulder portion 26, 28 is formed of multiple layers 44a, 44b, 44c, 44d of ballistic resistant material. In order to curve the shoulder portion 26, 28 over the shoulder 18 of the wearer 16, each successive inside layer 44 must travel a shorter distance than the preceding outer layer 44. For example, the inner layer 44a has an arcuate length from point “a” to point “b” in FIG. 15 which is less than an arcuate length of outer layer 44d from point “a” to point “b”. In alternative embodiments, the number of layers 44 traveling within shoulder portions 26 and 28 may be reduced, and the layers 44 within the back panel 12 and the front panel 22 are rigidly joined to the layers 44 within the shoulder portions 26 and 28 so that the layers 44 all cooperate and continue to act as a one piece vest and do not move independently.

As with the shoulder portions 26 and 28, the layers 44 extending between the back panel 12 and the front panel 22 are configured to account for the increased travel distance around the torso 51 for the outer layers compared to the inner layers. More particularly, the length of the outer layer 44d from the back panel 12 to the front panel 22 may be greater than the length of the inner layer 44a from the back panel 12 to the front panel 22 so that the panels 12 and 22 align properly.

As may be appreciated, the present invention is configured to prevent relative movement between adjacent ballistic panels, thereby effectively creating a single panel comprising the entire vest. Semi-rigid couplers may be provided to provide some flexibility in sizing and limited movement to accommodate the filling and expelling of the lungs and other movement of the wearer. The semi-rigid couplers permit the vest to act as a single sheet of ballistic material under certain conditions (particularly when challenged by ballistic projectiles, sharp edged weapons, etc.). Such an effective continuous design reduces or eliminates gaps between adjacent panels, thereby saving weight, increasing comfort, and reducing cost of production while providing improved protection.

While the illustrative embodiment vests 10, 10′, 10″ have been detailed for use with ballistic projectiles, such as bullets, it should be appreciated that they may find equal applicability in protecting a wearer from other threats. The reduction of back face deformation, limitation of shrinkage, and shape return by the panels are benefits in a wide variety of uses. For example, the vests 10, 10′, 10″ may be used to protect against strikes from high speed shrapnel, explosive forces, and sharp edged objects, such as knives. Further, the vests 10, 10′, 10″ may be used to reduce intrusive injury to internal organs by point loads, such as handlebars (by motorcycle riders) and bullhorns (by bull riders).

Although the invention has been described in detail with reference to certain preferred embodiments, variations and modifications exist within the spirit and scope of the invention as described and defined in the following claims.