CIA: Flying Skyhook wasn’t just for James Bond, it actually rescued agents

CIA adds instructions for Skyhook system to its museum

This had to be one hell of a ride.  The CIA today said it added a pretty cool item to its museum archives - the instruction card for officers being plucked off the ground by a contraption that would allow a person to be snatched off the ground by a flying aircraft.

According to the CIA, the Skyhook system included an aircraft equipped with steel wire-catching "horns" mounted on its nose, an electric-powered winch-a mechanical device used to pull in or let out cables-and a 50-foot steel cable; and a separate package of gear-delivered by air-drop-to let officers on the ground "catch" the Skyhook as the plane zipped by.

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The system worked like this:

  • From the air-dropped package, the officer on the ground used a helium balloon to lift a 500-foot cable into the air.
  • Then he would strap himself to a harness connected to the other end of the cable, and sit with the wind to his back and arms crossed.
  • A low-flying, slow-moving plane (which is relative - we're still talking somewhere in the neighborhood of 125 MPH), such as a B-17, would snag the cable with the Skyhook device on its nose, sweeping the person off the ground.
  • The plane's crew then pulled the officer aboard the aircraft within a matter of minutes.
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The system was used successfully 1962, when the Skyhook - or rather the Fulton Skyhook, named after its inventor Robert Fulton --  extracted  CIA officers and materials from an abandoned Soviet ice station that was suspected to have monitored American submarines. This was the first operational use of Skyhook, and it brought valuable intelligence on the USSR's Arctic activities, the CIA stated. 

An interesting history of the program can be found here.

If you are a James Bond aficionado you saw the system at work in the closing of Thunderball.

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