SEA BEE by Airdive
The first single hose regulator in the world was invented in Melbourne, Australia by Ted Eldred and commercially marketed under the brand name Porpoise from 1952. The company was called Breathing Appliances which was purchased by Air Liquide in 1960.
Around the same time as the Porpoise was invented another single hose regulator was being invented by Jim Ager and Lionel Martin. After several years of experimentation with oxygen rebreathing and air apparatus Jim Ager formed Sea Bee Marine Sport and Diving (later changed to The Victorian Aqua-Lung Centre) and released the Sea Bee scuba diving systems to the market place in 1954. In the same year he registered the manufacturing side of the business as AIRDIVE Equipment taking out patents on a number inventions. Jim also lived in Melbourne Australia and went on to become the longest individual maker of modern single hose scuba regulators in the world.
The company Airdive is still going today in Hobart Tasmania under the ownership of Eric Percival who purchased it from the receivers around 2010. They now specialise in High & Low Pressure Underwater and Industrial Technology.
During my short time collecting and researching the range of Sea Bee units I have found many variations.
1954 saw the first year that the Sea Bee unit was sold into the market after a few years of research and testing units
First stages units
The MK1 was released in July 1954. Regrettably I have not been able to find anyone with one of these units to date.1250 were produced and they were fitted directly to M cylinder outlet and also fitted onto twin tank manifold. Used with Sea Bee upstream 2nd stage.
The MK2 Jim Ager marketed as the World’s first balanced first stage. It was released in May 1957 with 1800 produced up until the MK3 was released in 1959.
This was fitted to the cylinder valve with a side clamp yoke (G Clamp).
The side clamp yoke could only work up to approximately 120 bar (1700PSI) cylinder pressure. Anything over this caused the clamp to open and leak. Differing from the MK3 by having square shaped top and bottom covers. The pressure seat adjustment was covered by a black rubber ball.
The MK3 balanced first stage was released in 1959 and there were over 3500 made between 1959 and 1963.This MK3 was still produced up until 1970 due to demand from specialty industries and the Navy. The MK3 was available early on with the side clamp yoke (G Clamp) but later a full ScubaPro yoke was supplied as the new range of 150 bar+ (2550PSI+) cylinders arrived in the market.
The MK4 (Series 4) was released in 1961 with a different cover over the pressure seat adjustment. This was never produced in any quantity due to better designs being invented. I have not seen one of these to this stage.
The Series 5 was produced in 1963 and only 125 were ever made. This was the first Airdive piston style.
The Series 6 was released in 1967 to compete with import units and over 2800 were manufactured.
To date I have not researched beyond the MK4 but there are plenty of exploded views for you to view. Most having note boxes with information about them by the inventor.
I have found documents up to Series 17 but I believe different models were available at the same time due to each unit doing a specific job from another one.
During these early years Airdive became the importer for ScubaPro and eventually due to costs etc. they started using ScubaPro 1st stage regulators attached to various Airdive 2nd Stage units.
This has been a bit harder to research.
It is believed the first 2nd Stage unit was called a MAXIFLOW produced somewhere between 1956 and 1960. I am only aware of three of these units in existence, luckily I have one.
The next version to be introduced was in approximately 1960 with an exhaust that went each side of your face. This unit had a metal body and wire clips to hold it all together. This unit started as downstream but sales fell off as some of the newer certifying agency instructors told the students they were unsafe even though there had never been a failure. However with declining sales Jim redesigned the unit to operate with an upstream valve.
The wing and wire clip cover were replaced in 1979 by a newer style one piece rubber cover, clamp and deflector which held all components together securely, yet it made servicing easy and ejected the exhaust bubbles to the rear.
The next major change has been the body which was originally metal was replaced with a polycarbonate (Lexan) moulded material in 1980 and a new cover designed (Enviro 2000) that exhausted under your chin to the rear when diving.
Many of these upstream second stage units are still today being used by commercial hookah divers due to the ease with which it breathes.
Airdive also inverted the first pressure guage called a Stem (or Tactile) guage in 1955. For more details refer to Engineering Bulletin EB095.
A few years later Heathway’s in the USA released their version of the same guage.
The principle of how it worked was that a piston rod like a nail working against a pressure spring was pushed out to a specifically calibrated position and as the cylinder pressure decreased the piston rod withdrew into the housing. This could be checked by the diver holding their finger over where the piston rod came in and out if the visibility was poor.
The Airdive stem gauge bodies were round and Heathway’s left their gauges body hexagonal. The police insisted Airdive keep making them for black water dives and they continued into the 3000 psi era.
I have been fortunate enough to obtain all the remaining components from AIRDIVE. Eric has donated these so that I can give them out to any HDS member worldwide at no cost (except postage)
SOME ITEMS STILL MANUFACTURED LIKE 2ND STAGE TILT VALVES AND DIAPHRAMS WILL BE CHARGED FOR AS THEY ARE STILL CURRENT USED COMPONENTS.
Disclaimer: All the above information has been gathered from many sources, both in print and verbal from reputable people who knew Jim. Any information that is incorrect I am happy to discuss with anyone to correct.