Squeak helped develop and test this system
During the Korean war, CIA became interested in the All American system. In the spring and summer of 1952, CIA
tried to establish a resistance network in Manchuria. Civil Air
Transport (CAT), its air proprietary, dropped agents and supplies into
Kirin Province as part of a project known to the pilots as Operation
Tropic. The All American system seemed to answer the problem of how to
bring people out of Manchuria.
In the fall of 1952, CAT pilots in Japan made a number of static
pickups, then successfully retrieved mechanic Ronald E. Lewis. On the
evening of 29 November 1952, a CAT C-47 with CIA
officers John T. Downey and Richard G. Fecteau departed Seoul for Kirin
Province, intending to pick up members of a team that had been inserted
the previous July.
The Skyhook System
By 1958, the Fulton aerial retrieval system, or Skyhook,
had taken its final shape. A package that easily could be dropped from
an aircraft contained the necessary ground equipment for a pickup. It
featured a harness, for cargo or person, that was attached to a
500-foot, high-strength, braided nylon line. A portable helium bottle
inflated a dirigible-shaped balloon, raising the line to its full
The pickup aircraft sported two tubular steel "horns" protruding
from its nose, 30 feet long and spread at a 70-degree angle. The
aircraft would fly into the line, aiming at a bright mylar marker placed
at the 425-foot level. As the line was caught between the forks on the
nose of the aircraft, the balloon was released at the same time the
spring-loaded trigger mechanism (sky anchor) secured the line to the
aircraft. As the line streamlined under the fuselage, it was snared by
the pickup crew, using a J-hook. It was then attached to a powered winch
and pulled on board.
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.
The first human pickup took place on 12 August 1958, when S. Sgt.
Levi W. Woods, USMC, was winched on board the P2V. Because of the
geometry involved, the person being picked up experienced less of a
shock than during a parachute opening. After the initial contact, which
was described by one individual as similar to "a kick in the pants," the
person rose vertically at a slow rate to about 100 feet, then began to
streamline behind the aircraft. Extension of arms and legs prevented the
oscillation that plagued the pig, as the individual was winched on
board. The process took about six minutes.
In August 1960, Capt. Edward A. Rodgers, commander of the Naval Air Development Unit, flew a Skyhook
P2V to Point Barrow, Alaska, to conduct pickup tests under the
direction of Dr. Max Brewer, head of the Navy's Arctic Research
Laboratory. With Fulton on board to monitor the equipment, the P2V
picked up mail from Floating Ice Island T-3, retrieved artifacts,
including mastodon tusks, from an archeological party on the tundra, and
secured geological samples from Peters Lake Camp. The high point of the
trials came when the P2V dropped a rescue package near the icebreaker
USS Burton Island. Retrieved by a ship's boat, the package was brought
on deck, the balloon inflated, and the pickup accomplished.