In 1950 (before helicopters had a long enough range), CIA inventor Robert Edison Fulton, Jr. devised a method to "extract" a person from the surface using an airborne plane:

Skyhook testThe person would climb into the harness, and connect it to the balloon with the nylon wire. With the simple pull of a ripcord, the balloon would inflate from the helium bottle, and would thus rise. The line was marked with flags or lights to help the airplane find the target.

... A mechanism would snap closed when the line was caught, releasing the balloon and anchoring the line to the aircraft. As the target was lifted from the ground, the line streamed back into the aircraft's wake. The crew in the back of the plane would use a long hook to catch the line, and the target would then be winched into the bay.

The first live test was conducted with a pig as the target. Due to some stability issues, the pig spun in the 125 mph wind, and arrived on the plane dizzy and discombobulated. It recovered, however, and promptly attacked the crew.

Links: Damn Interesting | Wikipedia - via raincoaster

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