GREENFIELD – Todd Burton recalled the photo he has of his stepdaughter on an off-road vehicle in Afghanistan during her time as a member of the U.S. Military Police Corps.
The vehicle was open, leaving its operator exposed in the hostile environment.
When his stepdaughter returned home, she became a police officer, a profession strained more and more by the threat of active shooter situations.
All of that, combined with Burton’s construction background, sparked an idea that 14 years later is now becoming a product designed to protect those who need to rush into harm’s way far more nimbly than they’ve been able to in the past.
Greenfield-based TC Burton Enterprises, LLC makes a ballistic armor kit for all-terrain vehicles that the company is preparing to launch and market to customers like law enforcement agencies and security outfits.
It’s called the LD-1, with the letters standing for light dragoon and the numeral indicating its use for a single-rider ATV. The product is made up of an exoskeleton of laser-cut, precision-bent and welded steel. Openings are covered in ballistic panels resistant to AK-47 and AR-15 rounds fired from 50 feet, per the National Institute of Justice III standard.
Burton, president of the company, sees it as a game-changer for law enforcement officers responding to shooters in areas too small for an armored truck, but that still demand as much protection as possible, whether it’s inside a church, school, hospital, parking garage or mall. He added most freight elevators can accommodate the dimensions of an LD-1-equipped ATV, allowing it to be used on the upper floors of structures as well.
His wife, Cathy Burton, is executive vice president of the company. Her daughter, Emily Vautaw, is a military veteran and officer with the New Whiteland Police Department.
“And she drove these vehicles a lot over in Afghanistan and were wide open all the time,” Todd Burton said. “They (military personnel) did have their normal protective gear, but a lot of the off-road vehicles did not have anything on them.”
Gun violence and the difficulties law enforcement officers face when responding to it also got his gears turning.
“They carry shields, but to bring that level up to an AR-15 round, they’re too heavy to carry a lot,” Burton said. “They carry them, but it’s only for a short period of time.”
Enter the LD-1 – essentially a shield you can drive.
“Now we can take all that protection on a quick-instant response into the front door, into that arena,” Burton said.
In an active shooter situation, one armored ATV can go after the perpetrator while another can swing its protective doors open, providing cover for evacuees to crouch behind as the vehicle backs them away from danger, Burton also said.
Glenn Shanahan is chief operating officer for TC Burton Enterprises.
“We are not entering, we are now in a different society,” Shanahan said, adding he’s raised four children. “Kids coming into school are facing a very different world, and unfortunately we have to spend and work tirelessly to engineer things like this to protect our kids and each other from the bad guys.”
He agrees with his colleague on the potential for their product.
“These are going to change the face of SWAT, we know for a fact, forever and ever,” Shanahan said. “Speed, agility, offensive maneuverability, defensive prowess, the ability to stop large-round weapons.”
He expects them to be effective in outdoor situations as well, like in neighborhoods with narrow streets and small yards that SWAT vans would find difficult to traverse, and when officers are required to travel distances on foot that may be too far to haul ballistic shields.
“What do you do with this?” Shanahan said. “You drive it right down the sidewalk and into the front yard.”
Much of Burton’s career has been in construction. While he’s not an engineer, he said he has an engineer’s mind, and a folder full of ideas. When he shared his concept years ago for what became the LD-1 with Shanahan, who comes from a background in engineering and manufacturing, his friend urged him to pursue a patent.
“Basically, I see a lot of things, and I write things down, and this was the one idea I was very much advised to go to the … patent attorney, so that process took place, and the patent was granted and issued, and that gave us a foundation or footing for the product,” Burton said.
But patents cost about $50,000. To help raise the money, Burton took on extra jobs like cleaning offices at night, painting gigs and concrete work.
He first conceived his idea for the armor kit as going on top of a track loader before pivoting to ATVs and their wider market.
From his 1/16-scale foam board model, he later built a full-size plywood one about six years ago that he took to law enforcement agencies and U.S. Department of Defense personnel for their feedback and input. After applying their suggestions, he took his idea to engineers to develop the first prototype.
Part of the reason for the LD-1’s lengthy duration from foam board to full-blown armor kit is that bullet-resistance technology needed to catch up with Burton’s vision.
“Five or six years ago, some of the material that we’re using was still being developed because of being so lightweight and being able to stop those heavy rounds,” Burton said.
Epiphanies in West Africa
Before they became colleagues, Burton and Shanahan were friends from church whose bond grew stronger after embarking on a mission trip to Sierra Leone together. It was around the same time Burton was coming up with his idea for what became the LD-1, and also as he was overcoming a low point in his life he fell into after losing his father to cancer.
“We were already friends before that, but we became closer friends when you’re over in the stuff we were in,” Shanahan said. “It was crazy. It’s a hardship bond that you gain.”
The experience ultimately helped inform the guiding principles for their company and the inspiration to incorporate a Bible verse into its logo – Ephesians 6:17, which reads, “Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God.”
TC Burton Enterprises’ offices are located at 351 W. Muskegon Drive in Greenfield in the same building as Novelty Inc. The company uses Midwest firms for the LD-1’s steel exoskeleton and ballistic panels made from ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene fabric pressed together in multiple layers, resulting in a lightweight but bullet-trapping surface. All told, the kit weighs about 400 pounds.
“Our long-term business plan is to do some of that assembly here at this site,” Shanahan said.
LD-1s run $36,000. They’re compatible with Polaris 570 and 850 ATVs with no modifications to ATV platforms needed. They can be installed in about an hour.
“It’s very slick how it goes on a machine,” Shanahan said.
They’re modular as well; panels and parts of the exoskeleton can be replaced.
“So if you get into a firefight, and you get shot up, and you walk away from it, you limp it back to the barn or wherever, get online and order some stuff from us, it shows up and you can literally put it back together,” Shanahan said.
The first in what Shanahan said will be a long line of accessories includes a T-bar that attaches to an ATV’s trailer hitch, allowing two people to ride on the back.
“You just simply ride it garbage-truck style, if you’re coming into a situation and you need to get volumes of people in there, and you want to protect them coming into I-don’t-know land,” Shanahan said.
TC Burton Enterprises is also engineering adapters to allow kits to go on different models of ATVs. The company plans to branch out into products for two- and four-seater ATVs as well.
The company’s first major funding hit in March.
“It was all private funding through people that we know and trust and understand what we’re doing,” Shanahan said.
The next step is getting it into good guys’ fleets, he continued, adding the company’s calendar is filling up with meetings on that very subject.
“That’s how we want to grow this,” he said. “We want to be a little bit careful, because in the wrong hands it’s not a good thing. So we’re going to grow it and create traction where it’s going to impact the safety of large groups of people the quickest.”
Burton said they’re already getting interest in the southern part of the U.S., near the Mexican border, and areas with sandy soils that are difficult to drive heavy vehicles through.
They plan to grow domestically at first, but will attend the Shooting, Hunting Outdoor Trade Show in Las Vegas this winter, which will have an international audience. They’re also going before the Central Indiana Police Foundation in November.
Along with the Burtons and Shanahan, the team includes Christine Coning, vice president of administration; And Kathy Sipes, sales support manager. Cathy Burton, Coning and Sipes all formerly worked for the FBI, with Cathy Burton as a senior paralegal, Coning in administration and Sipes in community relations.
Todd Burton reflected on the long road the LD-1 had to take to get to its destination.
“Sometimes a lot of things didn’t happen,” he said. “It was just going to work, keeping the faith, putting the money in.”
As he got enough money, he’d put it toward various pieces of the process.
“Then you go back to work, then do it again, time and time and time again,” he said. “But then it got to a point where now we have something to go show somebody.”
TC Burton Enterprises plans to remain in the city long term.
“We have no desire, no intention of moving out of Greenfield, of this location,” Shanahan said.
And it’s just the beginning of what they hope to achieve.
“This will change the face of law enforcement and security, for sure, forever,” Shanahan said. “But there are other things that we’re getting into. We’re not ready to share those yet.”
“We have a pipeline of ideas and thoughts, and this won’t be the first and last,” he said.
Learn more about TC Burton Enterprises at tcburton.com.