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March 6, 2021

In the 1940s and 1950s, CIA Used Skyhook to Rescue Soldiers When It Was Not Safe to Fully Land an Aircraft

Adrift, but help is on the way! Down comes a special rescue kit which contains the most important items, a compressed air tank and a plastic balloon. The survivor just blows it up and attaches himself to the cable. Then, the balloon goes up, and a plane swoops down a sky hook. The balloon is automatically released, and the lucky survivor’s taken aboard the rescue plane. This demonstration is a new American idea for fishing a man out of the sea.


Skyhook was an adaptation of devices that Great Britain and the United States had used in the 1940s and early 1950s to enable an airplane to pick up people or cargo from the ground without landing. Officers on the ground deployed a helium balloon to lift an approximately 500-foot line into the air. They would then strap cargo or a person to a harness connected to the other end of the line.

Persons would sit with the wind to their back and their arms crossed to keep their hands away from their face. A low-flying, slow-moving plane, such as a B-17, with the special Skyhook device on its nose would snag the lift line, sweeping the cargo or person in the harness off the ground. To prevent painful twisting and turning while airborne, persons would simply spread out their arms and legs. The plane’s crew then winched the harness aboard the aircraft within a few minutes.

CIA used this technology operationally in 1962 as part of Operation COLDFEET in which personnel were extracted from the ground after investigating an abandoned Soviet research station in the Arctic. It also served to inspire a scene in the 2008 Batman movie The Dark Knight.

Here’s aviation Skyhook extraction mechanism instructions:




(via CIA.gov)




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