Skydiving History: The Legend Mike “Beanpole” Barber

Skydiving History: The Legend Mike “Beanpole” Barber

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If you inquire after skydiving history circa 1975, one name seems to stand out within the skydiving community Mike Barber. According to historians and fellow skydivers who were around at the time, Mike was a pretty impressive skydiver. Not only was he capable of fashioning equipment for himself, but he was able to make modifications so as to make it possible for others to partake in the sport. Furthermore, he established himself as a pioneer in the sport by attempting amazing feats few had seldom achieved thereby securing himself a significant place in skydiving history.

Information deemed from the archives of the Skydiving Museum & Hall of Fame, Mike, alongside another well-known skydiver, Bobby Gray, performed the first 2-way formation skydive in 1975. In some circles this account is debatable but this first-person description from skydiver Carl Daugherty who was there at the time may put rumors of them not being the first to rest. “We had been flying in close formation for a long time but had been afraid of actually making contact with another’s canopy until Mike Barber rode on the top of Bobby Gray’s canopy during about the last 100′ of descent. Nothing terrible happened, so Mac McCallum and Bobby went up and got an intentional hook-up in the next jump. Then Mike Barber and I (Carl Daugherty) got one, one jump later.”

These attempts at the first canopy stack were made sometime in July of 1975 in Deland, Florida. According to an additional source, they were able to snap a photo of the 2-way skydive and it appeared in a well-known sport’s publication the following year, but this could not be confirmed.

Per a section on the skydiving history of canopy formations, often referred to as CRW (Canopy Relative Work), this particular type of discipline had its inception in the 1970’s. By definition, CRW is the art of purposely maneuvering two or more open parachute canopies within close proximity or contact with one another during a jump. Since Mike and Bobby made their initial
2-way more than 30 years ago, larger and more diverse groups of formation skydives have been performed.

Beyond this amazing spectacle, multiple skydiving history reports have surfaced about Mike and his extraordinary skill set when it came to all things skydiving. In one account, a skydiver mentions that Mike was capable of building from scratch and making modifications to his own and other’s equipment. They stated that Mike had fashioned his own container and main parachute. He made further modification to another skydiver’s harness to create from a singular harness a way to take along a passenger so he could take the disabled son of a girlfriend up into an 11- way star for his eleventh birthday. The young boy named Kirk was affectionately nicknamed “Sky Kirk” following this event. This was believed to be around 1977 and if the account is true then this predates the development of the official Tandem skydive and Tandem harness design.

There was another skydiver on the same jump plane named Bob Favreau who jumped with his son for his birthday as well making that jump the unofficial 2nd “Tandem” skydive. Although credit is typically bestowed upon the two gentlemen, Ted Strong and Bill Booth, who each had their own company in pursuit of a way to safely skydive in tandem and developed such technology so as it make it a reality in 1983.

Following these events, in particular, it has been hard to uncover much about Mike Barber since the late 1970’s. Several skydivers remarked that he had eventually moved into the realm of instruction for piloting hang gliders. Upon closer inspection, it was determined that his ability to do all things regarding flight well was deserved. It has been said that he holds multiple piloting licenses and is thought to be one of the best hang gliding pilots in the world. He is known for clocking the unofficial longest cross-country hang glider flight at 438 miles.

The accomplishments and innovations that are a direct result of Mike Barber’s skill and adeptness have since cemented him as a legend within skydive circles and has led to him making his mark in skydiving history as an impressive figure not to be forgotten.

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