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Blackhawk is a Virginia-based manufacturer of law enforcement and tactical gear. It's the outgrowth of a garage business started by a Navy SEAL named Mike Noell. I recently had a phone conversation with an individual at Blackhawk regarding my Serpa Level 3 Sig holster writeup, and learned a lot of interesting information from the call which, while related to Blackhawk and tangentially to the Serpa, would be best placed in separate places.
"Blackhawk" is not the military contractor "Blackwater Operations". Blackwater is a good customer and does some testing and evaluation, but there is no relation between the two companies beyond the founders of both companies having been Navy SEALs. I write this only because when I first started hearing about their gear, I thought there was some kind of correlation. I imagine that other folks have thought the same thing. My contact is actually not sure where the name "Blackhawk" came from, however I intend to hassle him each time I speak to him until he finds out for me.
Blackhawk's Carbon-Fiber Blend Material
The most fascinating story I heard during the call was the story of Blackhawk's proprietary synthetic carbon fiber material. Unfortunately for brevity's sake, Blackhawk has no special name for it. But, before covering Blackhawk's material, first I should define its primary competitor in holster deisgn: kydex.
Kydex, which a lot of holsters are made from, is a fairly strong plastic which was developed in 1965 for use in aircraft interiors. According to the Wilson Combat website, the first Kydex holster design was patented in 1973 by a Bill Rogers. The reason for Kydex's great success is that it's been available for quite some time in a pelletized form, which means that it's easy to shape it with injection molding techniques. The ease of working with Kydex (and the fact it isn't bad at all for strength, etc) is the primary reason for its commercial success.
When Blackhawk decided to come out with a line of synthetic holsters, they decided that they wanted to have a company research a new material to make them out of. They wanted an injection-moldable synthetic material with maximum strength, which doesn't turn brittle in extreme cold. They approached a company named Jungst Scientific, which at the time was an extreme sports specialty shop, founded by an individual who liked to climb mountains (including icy ones) in his spare time. Jungst's previous clients included Black Diamond Equipment. When Blackhawk approached Jungst to develop a new substance for use in their holsters, what was eventually developed was a high-density impact-modified nylon, blended with carbon fiber. The carbon fiber material adds strength and flexibility, as well as greatly reducing the "memory effect", which is where other plastics deform and stay deformed after having been torqued. The addition of the carbon fibers greatly reduces the wear of the plastic, which is noticeable on other plastics in the form of the white line which appears as the plastic takes stress from being bent. Blackhawk liked the resultant material so much that, in June 2004, it acquired Jungst Scientific. They renamed the company to Blackhawk Scientific, but kept the company at its original location in Montana.
Although advertised as a carbon-fiber composite, Blackhawk's material is better described as a carbon-fiber blend. This is what Blackhawk's holsters and other high-durability injection-molded synthetics are made from. There are other materials used throughout the designs, however, so it should not be assumed that all injection-molded parts on Blackhawk products are actually made from this material. It is typically used on the bodies of all the Serpa holsters, though. The material, where used, is always identical - there are no variations in how much carbon fiber is used, etc. Now, in some areas where more flexibility is desired, the impact-modified nylon is used without the carbon fiber. However, all Blackhawk CF blend parts are of the same composition.
While I was unable to get any specific figures on cold resistance and brittleness, Blackhawk informs me that several Canadian law enforcement agencies (which likely have some of the greatest temperature concerns of any law enforcement agency) have adopted holsters using Blackhawk's material after evaluation. I suspect that if anyone is going to object to a synthetic material on the basis of its cold-weather performance, it would be the Canadians.
Stories about Blackhawk's Founder
I intend to fill this in from my notes soon. At present, I'm working more on assimilating the other data from the call and this section is a placeholder.
-- SeanNewton - 15 Oct 2008