By: Steven Hicks
On a busy road in Rockledge, ripe with new businesses and nice new homes popping up like weeds, stands a non-descript building hundreds pass by every day. It is clean, the landscaping is manicured, you will see 20-30 cars and trucks there most days, and yet too few know what goes on behind the doors and glass awnings.
Over 70 years ago, just after the end of WWII, the U.S. military was faced with occupying Japan. With Tokyo Harbor riddled with hundreds of mines, getting American ships in and out was very dangerous. But a resourceful engineer and inventor, Julian A. McDermott, developed a floating beacon the Navy could use to mark clear channels for its ships. This was a technologically advanced but simple, cost-effective solution that began his journey in creating specialty lighting for U.S. armed forces. A version of that light is still made today, and it continues to be installed on many Navy ships.
It is made by Phantom Products in Rockledge.
Fast forward through changes in lighting technology, a couple of different manufacturing plants, and finally a move from a small town in Maryland to Brevard County, and you will find Phantom Products, and McDermott’s immediate family, still producing lighting for our military and still saving lives.
The Phantom Warrior
The premier product these days, though there are many, is the Phantom Warrior TLS flashlight. (Some of you reading this will likely now stop, go to your kit tucked away from your service days and see you have had a Phantom Warrior for years). This flashlight has been supplied to all branches of American troops for well over 25 years. It is a simple, tactical LED flashlight with varying colors of light, intensity and flashing modes, all controlled by a patented switch and rotating bezel. The variances are dependent on the end user, but a standard military-issue version offers an adjustable white light (with low-signature to night-vision goggles), and an optional red or green light for night use, and then as many as seven flashing patterns such as SOS, random muzzle flash simulation and fast or slow strobing as a beacon.
The secret to its product is in the patented use of color LEDs to create the white light and the design of the case to be nearly indestructible in the heat of battle. Phantom’s R&D includes constant refining of the product through interaction with the “boots on the ground.” When those boots asked for a smaller, vest-mounted light, Phantom created the Phantom Hawk. When the K9 corps wanted to protect their EOD dogs, infrared versions of that light were developed to attach to the dogs’ collars. The Phantom Warrior product line now includes more than a dozen variants, each mission created and proven. They run on common AA batteries because soldiers said they preferred those to hard-to-source, odd-size lithium cells. Phantom listens to soldiers.
Much More Than Flashlights
As the Phantom Warrior flashlight became widely issued and respected in all branches of service, its lighting capabilities were explored further. Not the casing for the light, but more the science behind using multiple, color LEDs to create a low-signature white light that was easy on the eyes in darkness and map-reading friendly, but did not give away position to an enemy. As new military vehicles were being developed in the 1990s, this same patented lighting was used to create dome lighting and other interior lighting for vehicles, temporary buildings, aircraft and naval vessels. As a result, the back of a MRAP troop carrier could be opened at night and still retain its covertness. Blackhawk pilots could read maps in good light without compromising their night vision. A command center tent could be covert. And medics could perform life-saving procedures with the aid of lights specific to their task and not risk being exposed to the enemy.
As these lights and vehicles were paired together, and the various military branches learned how they could apply this technology, Phantom became a favorite supplier, with large contracts and a large manufacturing facility to satisfy them. It manufactures these products in its facility on Barnes Boulevard in Rockledge. The company’s workforce can swell to 100 depending on delivery needs, but typically stays under 50. Starting with Kevin McDermott, PE, chief mechanical engineer, his son Damien McDermott, PE, chief electronics engineer, and his daughter Victoria McDermott, JD, director of Military and Government Products, team Phantom expands to draftsmen, machinists, prototyping and environmental testing teams, as well as an array of well-experienced electronics assemblers.
While many companies outsource their work, Phantom does almost everything in house, including plastic injection molding, CNC lathe work, lens design and fabrication, and an array of testing. When there are requirements it cannot do in house, such as on the new Phantom PTOC Tent Light built with extruded and anodized aluminum, it looks to local sourcing. Just as many people today look for locally-grown food, Phantom works with local manufacturing specialists even if it costs more money. Phantom is driven to supply “Made-in-USA” products without rival. These products can and do save the lives of soldiers. In the culture at Phantom, there is no stronger motivation to excel.
Victoria McDermott is a bit of a celebrity at various military, law enforcement and municipal conventions and expos because she is willing to turn down large contracts from other governments in order to protect U.S. servicemen and women.
Phantom and the Force Behind It
Victoria McDermott, the force behind keeping Phantom successful in the marketplace, realized early in her career at the company that expanding knowledge and awareness of the product also increased sales. She travels extensively around the country to various military, law enforcement and municipal conventions and expos. Victoria is a bit of a celebrity at these male-dominated gatherings, not because she is a woman, but because she is the alpha representative of the company that turns down large contracts from other governments because she would never want her lights in anyone’s hands except for U.S. servicemen and women.
McDermott will tell you, “These lights truly do provide an advantage, and that advantage should only be ours.” Ask her for proof, and she will open a file cabinet full of letters from soldiers with stories and gratitude. A recent addition shows how creative the company is with the application of its technologies. The next time you enter the secure area at OIA or Orlando/Sanford, take notice of the REAL ID scanner Homeland Security agents use to scan your ID. That is a Phantom Scout, specially designed for that industry with input from the agents. It offers a fast scan of IDs, yet limits the agent’s exposure to the UV rays needed to detect falsified or counterfeit documents.
Bringing It All Home
Not every light manufactured by Phantom utilizes its unique multi-color LED technology, and not every product is military-specific. Another market segment McDermott has developed is with law enforcement agencies, fire departments and National Guard units. Phantom manufactures light bars, vehicle lighting, LED road flares and traffic wands for law enforcement as well as helmet lights and safety beacons for fire departments. National Guard units add Phantom light kits to their HUMVEEs to make them street legal after deployments.
Local police departments, such as in Melbourne, work closely with Phantom to design and manufacture lighting solutions for specific vehicles rather than buying off-the-shelf units and making them fit. In Brevard County, you will find multiple agencies taking advantage of having Phantom Products in their backyard, and the FDLE has added select Phantom products to its internal rewards program for officers. One thing you will not find at Phantom Products — someone sitting idle. Whether it is an order for a single tactical flashlight for an Army medic, or a years-long contract with a major military vehicle or aircraft contractor, each light receives the same attention to detail.
Sales are only through its website, PhantomProducts.com, and while visitors are welcome, there is no retail showroom at the plant.