This instruction card was essential for those operating Robert Fulton’s famed “Skyhook.” 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.
29.2 cm x 23 cm
(L x W)
The Debrief: Behind the Artifact - Skyhook
What did James Bond, Batman, agent Sidney Bristow and John Wayne have in common? They all use the fulton skyhook system in daring and over the top moments on film. Sometimes screenwriters in hollywood come up with imaginative and over-the-top things that you think would that actually work in real life. But here at CIA, we create or use things all the time that don’t just work in real life–they’re actually important parts of intelligence collection.
This suit was used in the fulton skyhook system, but these boots and helmet were actually worn by Lieutenant Leonard Leshack of the US Navy and one of the coolest or coldest missions of all time. You see, the United States and the Soviet Union weren’t just aggressively competing for things like missiles and satellites. We were also vying for our understanding of the arctic for scientific and military purposes. In 1961, the United States found an abandoned Soviet research station and U.S. naval research decided to go after this rare intelligence find and operation cold feet was born.
Unfortunately, naval research ran out of money but the CIA picked up the project using our proprietary cover airline Intermountain Aviation with two skilled pilots Connie Siegrist and Douglas Price who were very experienced at exfiltration using World War II Arab b-17s. On May 28, 1962 Leshack and Major James Smith parachuted down onto the ice. They actually took photographs of all of the facility and discovered over 150 pounds of paperwork samples and equipment. It was a trove of intelligence that the Soviets left behind. They were only supposed to be in this harsh environment for 72 hours, but due to fog their pickup was delayed by a day. On the day of the pickup it was still foggy and there were 30 knot winds on the surface. But the B17 came roaring in 425 feet above the ground and picked up the bag full of all of the intelligence.
Next it was leshac’s turn and things did not go very well for him at first. He was pulled across the ice for 300 feet on his stomach before being able to correct his position. You see, you’re supposed to be facing against the wind. But he was facing towards the wind but he was able to adjust himself before being pulled on board. Then it was smith’s turn and the same thing happened at first he was pulled across the ice but he was able to actually get one of his boots in a crack on the ice and turn his body before being brought on board.
Because of this courageous and resourceful team the CIA was now in possession of Soviet technology related to under ice acoustics and anti-submarine warfare tactics. Bet you’ll never look at Batman the same after this.