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CIA: Flying Skyhook Wasn't Just For James Bond, It Actually Rescued Agents 123

Posted by samzenpus
from the you're-outta-here dept.
coondoggie writes "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 without the plane actually landing."
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CIA: Flying Skyhook Wasn't Just For James Bond, It Actually Rescued Agents

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  • by NinjaTekNeeks (817385) on Monday October 15, 2012 @03:06PM (#41662479)
    Teleporter's most likely. Always wondered what you could come up with with an unlimited budget, now we know.
    • by jdray (645332) on Monday October 15, 2012 @03:29PM (#41662733) Homepage Journal

      IIRC, the skyhook was featured in "The Green Berets" (1968). I've definitely seen it in some Vietnam War flick. At any rate, when I was in the USAF, as a loadmaster on C-130s, I remember reading about a procedure and rig for the extraction. Definitely a corner case, though, like JATO bottles.

    • by Guppy06 (410832) on Monday October 15, 2012 @03:37PM (#41662817)

      Teleporter's most likely.

      Or, y'know, a helicopter.

    • by Sez Zero (586611) on Monday October 15, 2012 @03:46PM (#41662925) Journal
      Here's the CIA link [cia.gov] I thought this was funny, regarding the development of the system:

      The first live test, with a sheep, failed when the harness twisted and strangled the animal. On subsequent tests other sheep fared better.

      Yes, hard to believe a subsequent test where sheep fared worse, but I'm sure slashdot will oblige.

      • by KrackerJax (83403) on Monday October 15, 2012 @04:19PM (#41663389)

        Also from the CIA article:

        "Fulton first used instrumented dummies as he prepared for a live pickup. He next used a pig, as pigs have nervous systems close to humans. Lifted off the ground, the pig began to spin as it flew through the air at 125 mph. It arrived on board undamaged but in a disoriented state. Once it recovered, it attacked the crew."

        Too funny, I can only imagine what a berserker pig in an aircraft is like.

        • especially one inside the confines of an aircraft. I can only imagine how the ground crew and engineers were treated upon landing.

          (Bay door opens)

          Engineer: So how'd it.....(several angry loadmasters exit with torn flight suits and reeking of pig shit).....nevermind. So, uhhhh, pork chops for dinner tonight?

          Loadmaster: Pork chops for dinner tonight.

          • by bhiestand (157373)

            especially one inside the confines of an aircraft. I can only imagine how the ground crew and engineers were treated upon landing.

            (Bay door opens)

            Engineer: So how'd it.....(several angry loadmasters exit with torn flight suits and reeking of pig shit).....nevermind. So, uhhhh, pork chops for dinner tonight?

            Loadmaster: Pork chops for dinner tonight.

            Nah. Engineers are an important part of the crew (Flight Engineer). Here's the more likely version:

            (Bay door opens)

            Loadmaster: Pork chops for dinner tonight.

            Crew chief (seeing mess): Shit! I am NOT cleaning that up! HAZMAT!!!!

            • by bhiestand (157373)

              So much for realism :( need some edit buttons. I meant to replace "Bay door opens" with "ramp and door open" before I posted.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Forgive me if I'm not the first to post this, but...
          "I'm tired of these motherf*****g pigs on this motherf*****g plane!

          • by Genda (560240)

            Oh! Now you went and done it... Now they're gonna go make "Pigs on a Plane" starring Samuel L. Jackson, and its all your fault. I hope you're happy with yourself.

      • Brings to mind Arthur C Clarke's short story Travel By Wire where the experimenters turned a rabbit into a pile of 1 cubic centimetre 3D pixels, and decided they had to up the resolution. The next test subject died of fright and the one after that lived because it had been blindfolded.

  • by bhlowe (1803290) on Monday October 15, 2012 @03:08PM (#41662497)
    They showed this extraction method on The Unit. Season 2, episode 1 "Change of Station".
    • Re:The Unit... (Score:5, Informative)

      by j-pimp (177072) <zippy1981@gmaiTEAl.com minus caffeine> on Monday October 15, 2012 @03:10PM (#41662529) Homepage Journal

      They showed this extraction method on The Unit. Season 2, episode 1 "Change of Station".

      Also, Morgan Freeman used it to get Batman out of China without taking the bat boots off for the TSA.

      • by Ogive17 (691899)
        I also saw it in an older war movie, possibly "Bridge over the river Kwai".

        They used it to extract a high ranking POW, if memory serves.
        • by jackbird (721605)

          Um, I don't think that could have been Bridge on the River Kwai. William Holden escapes into the jungle on foot at the beginning, and the movie ends before there's any extraction of what's left of the demolition team.

          Also, the movie came out in 1957 (winning Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, and 4 other Oscars that year), and TFA says the first use of the skyhook was 1962.

          Excellent fucking movie though.

        • by khallow (566160)
          You might be referring to The Green Berets [wikipedia.org] which had the abduction of a North Vietnam general as part of the plot.
      • Re:The Unit... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by amicusNYCL (1538833) on Monday October 15, 2012 @05:41PM (#41664129)

        He even described it accurately:

        Lucius Fox: Now for high altitude jumps you're gonna need oxygen and stabilizers. Now I must say compared to your usual requests, jumping out of an airplane is pretty straightforward.
        Bruce Wayne: And what about getting back into the plane?
        Lucius Fox: I'd recommend a good travel agent.
        Bruce Wayne: Without it landing.
        Lucius Fox: Now that's more like it, Mr. Wayne. The CIA had a program back in the 60's for getting their people out of hot spots called Sky Hook. We could look into that.

    • 'The Green Berets' starring John Wayne was the first time I saw it in film.
    • Also in The American Way [imdb.com].

  • Is this a surprise? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lester67 (218549) <ratels72082@m[ ]cks.net ['ypa' in gap]> on Monday October 15, 2012 @03:08PM (#41662509)

    They practiced this, pretty regularly at Hurlburt Field, Florida... within view of the general public. Several of the MC-130's were fitted with the catch arms. (It's even had a wikipedia page for awhile now.)

    So, yeah, it's cool... but it's hardly new or a secret.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Tourney3p0 (772619)
      There's still an MC-130E at the entrance of Hurlburt (at the museum, so findable using GIS) still outfitted with the sky hook last time I was down there. I believe the later CT1s have all had the functionality removed, but I'm a CT2 (MC-130H) guy. Sadly, the E model is being phased out and even the development team has been shifted to other duties.
      • by jdray (645332)

        Sadly, the E model is being phased out...

        Sadly? Really? Those things were getting difficult to maintain when I was in (happily crewing H models) in the late eighties. My friends at Little Rock, who were stuck with E models, cussed them regularly.

        • Yeah, no doubt they're getting up there in years. It's time I suppose.

          It looks like they're going to be replaced by J-models, which I personally don't care for due to how the vendor has a lifetime contract for the main mission computer. That in itself isn't so bad, but we still have to have a full government team working concurrently to develop the plane-specific OFP. Nothing to do with the functionality, but it's pretty wasteful. Personal preference.

    • by G-Man (79561) on Monday October 15, 2012 @04:11PM (#41663285)

      Yep, the Fulton Recovery System - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fulton_surface-to-air_recovery_system [wikipedia.org]

      I get the impression it was similar to ejecting from an aircraft: Yes it worked, yes it was fairly safe, but you only did it if you really had to.

      • by Klinky (636952) on Monday October 15, 2012 @04:24PM (#41663437)

        This is a great quote from the wiki:

        "Fulton first used instrumented dummies as he prepared for a live pickup. He next used a pig, as pigs have nervous systems close to humans. Lifted off the ground, the pig began to spin as it flew through the air at 125 mph (200 km/h). It arrived on board uninjured but in a disoriented state. Once it recovered, it attacked the crew."

  • Aspect ratio (Score:1, Insightful)

    by SuperMooCow (2739821)

    Another stupid webmaster who never learned about aspect ratios. In fact, there's also stupid people in television stations, because the amount of broadcasts with the wrong aspect ratio is rather astounding.

    • Another stupid webmaster who never learned about aspect ratios.

      Or thumbnails.

    • by vlm (69642)

      In fact, there's also stupid people in television stations, because the amount of broadcasts with the wrong aspect ratio is rather astounding.

      A little off topic, but I've seen SD PBS analog "basic" cable channels with black bars holding a HD aspect video, that HD aspect video is holding a SD video, inside that SD video is a HD signal. Yes, double blackbar'd. Impressive fail there.

      • by istartedi (132515)

        Yes, but was it stable or was it switching every few seconds? There's nothing quite like having aspect on "auto" and letting the station bother you dozens of times before you impose a compromise manually.

    • by T-Bone-T (1048702)

      It isn't just the broadcasters. I was at Chili's and all the HDTVs were showing the game in SD. Broadcasters won't fix it if viewers can't even tell if it is wrong.

  • I didn't realize this flying skyhook technology and its use were doubted by any serious person. Are these the same people who doubt the moon landings?
    • by MyLongNickName (822545) on Monday October 15, 2012 @03:26PM (#41662701) Journal

      Why would I believe it existed just because I saw it in a movie? i can't say I gave it a lot of thought, but I generally don't go "Gosh, I saw it in a james Bond movie, it must exist in real lifte."

      • I guess I do more than watch movies. I've also seen it described and photographed in a book. This hasn't been a secret and they've been using it for decades.
      • by tehcyder (746570)

        Why would I believe it existed just because I saw it in a movie? i can't say I gave it a lot of thought, but I generally don't go "Gosh, I saw it in a james Bond movie, it must exist in real lifte."

        You know your trouble? You're just too cynical.

    • by NikeHerc (694644)
      Are these the same people who doubt the moon landings?

      Probably not. The supply of people who will fall for the conspiracy theory du jour seems endless.
  • by rubycodez (864176) on Monday October 15, 2012 @03:24PM (#41662691)

    prop plane flying in special circles could keep a weight at end of winchable cable relatively stationary to ground. this method was used to take and deliver mail at remote locations, and at stunt shows to pick up and leave a stuntman.

    • by dickens (31040)

      Cool idea - Just like an AC-130 but with a cable instead of a chain of hot lead (or depleted uranium)

    • by rubycodez (864176) on Monday October 15, 2012 @04:24PM (#41663441)

      video of the "bucket drop"

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRZAwERwHVA [youtube.com]

    • No doubt simpler....but whatever the CIA is trying to airlift out in those circumstances probably needs to get itself gone in a hurry....and not require the plane flying around several times to be shot at by whatever angry folks are in pursuit....

    • Simpler maybe - but also much less flexible and much more dangerous for the aircraft in the type of mission that TFA describes. Simpler is not always better.

    • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Monday October 15, 2012 @07:04PM (#41664659) Journal

      You could also lower a (wired) telephone for the person on the ground to discuss things with the aircraft crew, like what stuff needed to be delivered. Phone comes down, ground guy takes/makes call. Phone goes up. Cable with box comes down. Ground guy disconnects the snap. Cable goes back up. Rinse and repeat if you need more than one box.

      Fly the aircraft high enough and it looks like a phone, or a box of stuff, is just being lowered by a cable out of the sky with no obvious source. And the craft has to be reasonably high for the cable to be stable, rather than circling, when it's near ground level.

      I understand this was used by missionaries in remote locations. I wonder how careful they were to let the congregation know that they were talking to / getting stuff from other missionaries, rather than heaven. B -)

      I hear you can also use it to raise (or lower) a guy in a harness.

      The main disadvantage compared to skyhook is that the aircraft has to circle the landing zone for a half-hour or so - at radar-visible height. It's there long enough to shoot down, and puts a big target on whom/whatever you were interacting with on the ground. NOT what you want for a black op behind enemy lines. Skyhook just flies an airplane over the target, with nothing to distinguish that spot from anywhere else on the flight path.

      • Skyhook just flies an airplane over the target, with nothing to distinguish that spot from anywhere else on the flight path.

        Except the frickin' balloon with lights on the cable! ;-)

        The enemy just has to follow the balloon to get to the guy. Then the plane crew will be winching up a dead guy.

  • See this in a museum (Score:4, Informative)

    by steveha (103154) on Monday October 15, 2012 @03:30PM (#41662755) Homepage

    You can see a display about this in the Evergreen Avation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon. They have an airplane on display with the "catcher" appratus mounted on the nose, and I think they have the other hardware too. (It's been a few years since I went there, and I mostly remember my tour of the Spruce Goose.)

    http://www.evergreenmuseum.org/ [evergreenmuseum.org]

    They had some other intriguing stuff. I remember a short-range VTOL device that was basically an airplane engine mounted vertically; it sucked air in from the top, blew it out the bottom, and the operator would stand on a ring that circled the outside of the engine. I remember wondering how difficult that might be to fly, since it was too old to have a computer-controlled active stabilisation system. Also, I think I would want to wear hearing and eye protection if I was riding that thing.

    steveha

    • by steveha (103154)

      Actually, now that I think about it, on that VTOL thing you stood on a platform directly over the engine. I guess the platform must have been offset high enough to allow sufficient air intake into the engine?

      I'll just have to go back to the Evergreen Aviation Museum and look again, one of these days.

      steveha

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 15, 2012 @03:35PM (#41662789)
  • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Monday October 15, 2012 @03:39PM (#41662835) Journal

    In WWII we were recovering entire gliders this way, not just people: http://www.silentwingsmuseum.com/pdf/RetrievalSystem.pdf [silentwingsmuseum.com] -- a history of airplane/ground retrieval systems specifically relating to the effort to pull Waco CG4A gliders big enough to hold 15 people, from the fields where they'd landed back into the air and tow them back to the launch airbase without the tow plane landing. It was dangerous work and pretty often it ended up just tearing the glider into pieces but it was successful a fair amount of the time.

    • Brings to mind hang glider launches over water where the tow boat would accelerate to full speed as the rope fed out. The glider pilot got to watch the loop of rope in front of him getting smaller and smaller.

    • I’ll be driving the author of that article next week to the annual WWII glider pilot’s reunion. It was called snatch pickup or “the snatch”. About 1-in-8 WWII gliders were launched this way: http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA516653 [dtic.mil] The tow plane’s winch grew out of airmail pickup in the Alleghenies, with the goal posts first used by the Marines in 1927 (there’s a display at the National Museum of the Marine Corps). The physics of a 1946 launch of a 25,000-lb
    • Do you have any records of gliders damaged by snatch pickup? An overused towline would, on rare occasion, snap while the glider was still on the ground, and go through the plexiglass windscreen, making the pilot duck. Only in the Dec '48 Greenland rescue did this happen to an airborne glider for an exciting return into the snow. http://www.airspacemag.com/history-of-flight/Stranded.html [airspacemag.com]
      • I don't have any written records. I talked to a guy who was a glider pilot and he had lots of stories about how well they could have worked and how poorly they did work because of lousy surveying of landing ground. He'd seen ones get yanked into pieces in snatch pickups and was of the opinion that the reason it was rarely used was twofold: risk, and higher-ups were deliberately sabotaging the delivery of snatch-recovery equipment (poles and lines) because they thought the risk outweighed the benefit.

        • Yeah, for any number of reasons much of the pickup gear delivered to England was removed, pre-Normandy, and few tow pilots trained. It wasn't until post-Market Garden that the European theater got serious about glider recovery, probably because they were needed for the last big operation to cross the Rhine. Burma used snatch pickup a lot, Pacific and Arctic a little; Med was offered to recover out of Siciliy but declined. I would love to talk or write to your glider pilot for the when, where, and how man
  • I heard (or I think I heard) about some system where you could play out a rope from a plane and, if the rope was long enough, the plane could circle and somehow the end of the rope would be held over a certain spot on the ground. Apparently (again, if I recall correctly) it could be used to gently lower equipment to the ground, where the receiver could just reach up and unhook the shipment from the rope while the plane was circling overhead. Has anyone ever heard of anything like that?
    • I heard (or I think I heard) about some system where you could play out a rope from a plane and, if the rope was long enough, the plane could circle and somehow the end of the rope would be held over a certain spot on the ground. Apparently (again, if I recall correctly) it could be used to gently lower equipment to the ground, where the receiver could just reach up and unhook the shipment from the rope while the plane was circling overhead. Has anyone ever heard of anything like that?

      I remember what you describe on TV when I was younger for both picking up and dropping off equipment. I'm pretty sure they even picked up a stunt man using this technique to demonstrate how gentle it was..

  • by swschrad (312009) on Monday October 15, 2012 @03:46PM (#41662923) Homepage Journal

    the mail wagon got its mail from small cities by having a snatch hook grab it from a hanging hook at the edge of the platform, and the snatch hook was then pulled back into the mail car. so the CIA technology is derivative.

  • This was my bet on the most effective way to get him out of London. Too bad Ecuador doesn't have the equipment.
  • The British experimented and used this method already during WWII, to retrieve spies from occupied Europe.
  • I seem to remember that this contraption was used in the John Wayne film "The Green Berets" [wikipedia.org], and since it was way before special effects, I suspect it was really a person being snatched off the ground.
    • No movie after Metropolis (1927) can be said to be before special effects.

      • Actually, Georges MéliÃs [wikipedia.org] accidentally discovered the stop trick [wikipedia.org] in 1896 and used it to create magic tricks in his films. Later, he also invented a number of other classic special effects techniques, decades before Metropolis was made. The film history shown in the movie Hugo [wikipedia.org] was quite accurate, as was its depiction in his later life as a toy salesman.
    • by tehcyder (746570)

      I seem to remember that this contraption was used in the John Wayne film "The Green Berets" [wikipedia.org], and since it was way before special effects, I suspect it was really a person being snatched off the ground.

      Yes, because obviously they couldn't have used a dummy.

  • The skyhook was used in the 1968 John Wayne movie "The Green Berets." I think they used it to skyhook a communist agent that they had captured.

    • by tehcyder (746570)
      Congratulations, you are the 100th person to make exactly the same post in this thread, so you get a special bumper sticker.
  • Not one mention of MGS: Peace Walker? All Fulton, All The Time.
  • I saw this demoed by the 5th Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg on the mid 60's at the "Gabriel Demonstration" area (Dedicated to an early SFG member captured and killed in 1962 in VN) They used a dummy and I think a c-130

    History of the 5th SFG and SP5 Gabrial: http://www.usmilitariaforum.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=77533 [usmilitariaforum.com]

  • In "When the Bullet Hits Your Funny bone" http://amzn.com/1606190660 [amzn.com] One of the "funny" stories talks about this device and a SEAL being whisked away from a card game. Unfortunately, something went wrong and he released just before reaching the plane. He flashed the bird to the plane as he fell to his death. That was the one tale from that book in which I didn't quite see the humor. Just goes to show how routine this stuff is for those who live it.

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