1968. Mike Carson Prototype Demand Mask

In the late 1950s, Mike Carson was one of the youngest hard hat divers in the Los Angeles Harbor. In 1958 he worked with Al Hansen wrapping the first pilings at the Mattson Dock in the Los Angeles Harbor. Mike and Al's son, John Hansen designed a fiberglass diving mask. Though they only sold a small number of these masks, it was from these humble beginnings that Mike went on to design and build other diving equipment such as com boxes and underwater camera housings while continuing to design and manufacture diving masks and helmets.

It was his underwater camera housings that brought Mike to the attention of Hollywood. Mike designed and manufactured diving equipment and props for the film and TV industries working with the likes of Executive Producer Irwin Allen, Producer-Director Mike Dugan and famed underwater cameraman Lamar Boren. Mike's work in cinema includes Sea Hunt, Man from Atlantis, The Return of Captain Nemo, Airwolf, The Aquanaut, McHale’s Navy, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Poseidon Adventure, Destiny and The Wreck of the Mary Deare. Mike also worked as a stunt double in the 1960s TV series Assignment Under Water for actor Bill Williams, who was best known for portraying Kit Carson in the 1950's TV series of the same name.                                                                                                                                                  Text: special thanks to http://www.carlsondivesystems.com

In 1970, Mike designed and manufactured the Carson Mk 3 Air Hat, a hand-laid fiberglass helmet designed for commercial and salvage diving, for use with surface supplied air down to 250 feet. The Mk 3 featured a non-return valve, 2-way communications, an improved jocking system; an emergency air fitting that would accommodate a standard SCUBA tank, along with a more comfortable headliner. Mike also continued to manufacture and sell his Carson Mk 2 fiberglass mask and a one diver com box along with his underwater camera housings. He sold his products under the name Dive Tec.

1970. Mike Carson / Divetec Mk 3 Air Hat

1975. Mike Carson / U.S. Divers Com Hat 1

In 1973, Mike partnered with Mike Boitano of International Cryogenic Engineering Corp. and with input from Steve Reimers, Donald Rodocker, and Tracy Robinette. Carson and Boitano designed, developed, patented and built the Helium Recovery System, initially called the Model 2500 (later this system was called the HRS-15). This helium reclaimer unit was introduced at the 1975 Offshore Technology Conference in Houston, Texas. Measuring a mere 5-1/2 ft x 4 ft and weighing approximately 520 lbs. its matrix remains state of the art today. After the unit was evaluated by Mr. John M. Canty, P.E., the first unit of this revolutionary innovation was purchased by the Canadian Government on October 14, 1975 for the sum of $42, 950.00 CDN. The second unit was sold to the USN Experimental Diving Unit in Panama City, FL. (A Cost Analysis of this unit was prepared by NEDU's Eric Randall in Sept. 1981 and is available from Defense Technical Information Center, Accession # ADA108409.) After selling out his interest in Dive Tec to Mike Boitano, Mike Carson returned to his first love make diving helmets and equipment, doing business under the name Carson Dive Tech.                                                                                                             Text: special thanks to http://www.carlsondivesystems.com

1973. The Helium Recovery System

In late 1975, Mike went to see Mr. John Cronin, then the president of U.S. Divers Co. in Santa Ana, CA. Mike took with him his design drawings for a new fiberglass diving helmet that was based on his Mk 3 Air Hat. This new helmet, which he called the Com Hat 1, was designed to work with either compressed air or mixed gas. The major components of the Com Hat 1 were a side valve manifold and a mixed gas scuba type regulator. U.S. Divers Co. was the only company manufacturing these parts at the time. Mike wanted to purchase these parts from U.S. Divers for use on his helmet. At the time Mike was told that Mr. John Cronin was out of the office and would not be back until after the New Years holiday. The receptionist suggested that Mike meet with the head of the commercial diving division. After a brief meeting, Mike left his design drawings and purchase proposal with the head of the commercial diving division, stating he’d return after the holidays. In the interim, Mike received a phone call from his friend Rodney Cruze; president of Aqua-Air Industries, Inc. Mr. Cruze informed Mike that U.S. Divers Co. was building a new diving helmet.

It was at this point that Mike was brought aboard as a project design consultant and the primary subcontractor for the Com Hat 1 project. Mike completed about 80% of the Com Hat 1 proto-type. Then Mike took a two week leave of absence to complete his obligations for the filming of Man from Atlantis. Upon his return to U.S. Divers, Mike found out that the proto-type helmet had been changed; the overall helmet size had been enlarged, a large pod had been added to the left side of the helmet, and a water filled plastic headliner had been installed. These changes resulted in the helmet being impractical and cumbersome. At this point Mike left the project, returning to his shop where he continued making dive products. To this day Mike has not been paid for his work on this project.

Redesigned Com Hat I shown with neck dam, water filled headliner, and water jug used to fill headliner. Text and photograph: special thanks to http://www.carlsondivesystems.com

The Com Hat 2

A short time later Mike was called back to U.S. Divers to discuss working on the Com Hat II project. The Com Hat II was to be a copy of the SuperLite-17 dive helmet. When shown the SuperLite-17 it seemed to Mike that other than the lower assembly, the SuperLite-17 was merely a fiberglass version of Ben Miller's Bronze diving helmet which was already well established but unpatented. Mike met with Jude Mills who headed U.S. Divers engineering department and also another new guy Tom Johnston, the newest head of their commercial diving department. Mike was informed repeatedly in meetings that Bev Morgan had sold the rights to the name Kirby-Morgan as well as his line of dive products to U.S. Divers Co. back in 1969. U.S. Divers Co. problem was with the "toilet seat” neck yoke that Bev Morgan had patented (U.S. patent #3,958,275). Mike was asked to design an alternative to the patented neck yoke used on the SuperLite-17. Mike was provided with a SuperLite-17 helmet and after extensive test diving of the helmet he was able to design an improved lower assembly unit; including the neck yoke and locking device. A small number of proto-types were made by Mike Carson. The Com Hat II was never produced by U.S. Divers Co., though Mike continued his association with U.S. Divers through 1978. Bev Morgan purchased the rights to U.S. Divers Co. commercial diving products in 1988, thus after 20 years Bev was once again able to use the name Kirby-Morgan, KMB, and band mask for his diving products.

The Carson 2500 Stainless Steel Helmet

It was at this time that Mike began researching the feasibility of a stainless steel diving helmet. After 25 years of research and design, in 2002 he produced the worlds first combination stainless steel helmet and regulator made from a one piece casting with a front mount regulator and side block, designed for a depth of 2500 ft. This state of the art stainless steel diving helmet is unlike anything previously manufactured. The Carson 2500 debuted at the 2003 Underwater Intervention, New Orleans, LA as well as offering the Carson 2500 for sale on EBay from Feb. 8 through Feb.18, 2003 for the sum of $10,000.

In 2008, Mike a resident of California for many years, was sued by Kirby-Morgan, a Santa Barbara, California based company, in a Florida court for trademark infringement, though the U.S. trademark on the Superlite-17 was not issued until 2004. Furthermore, due to health reasons Mike has not personally built a helmet since 2003. Unable to travel to Florida to attend the trial, and unable to afford the $25,000 retainer attorneys requested, Mike was unable to mount a defense against Kirby-Morgan's false allegations so the Kirby-Morgan attorneys won yet another case by default judgment. As one attorney who read the final judgment in the above case put it, “It seems they (KM) spent a great deal of money on this case to accomplish absolutely nothing.”

Mike continues to research and design diving equipment for use in commercial diving. Among Mike's newest endeavors is the development of a state of the art Titanium alloy commercial diving helmet.

Text and photograph: special thanks to http://www.carlsondivesystems.com

1970. Mike Carson / Divetec Mk-1 free flow Diving Mask

1972. Mike Carson / Divetec Mk-2 free flow Diving Mask

1975. Mike Carson / U.S.Divers redesigned Com Hat 1

1976. Mike Carson / Divetec Mk 4 Air Hat ( Prototype )

Mike Carson’s Mk-4 Air Hat Prototype. This helmet was used on the ‘6 Million Dollar Man’ TV Series. Text and photograph: special thanks to http://www.carlsondivesystems.com

Text and photograph: special thanks to http://www.carlsondivesystems.com

Text: special thanks to http://www.carlsondivesystems.com

Text and photograph: special thanks to http://www.carlsondivesystems.com

Text and photograph: special thanks to http://www.carlsondivesystems.com

Photograph: special thanks to http://www.carlsondivesystems.com

Photograph: special thanks to http://www.carlsondivesystems.com

Photograph: special thanks to http://www.carlsondivesystems.com

Mike Carson


the scrapbook of diving history