Articles

The Air Force tried plucking soldiers off the ground at 125 mph during WWII

One of the most insane rollercoaster rides of World War II consisted of an airplane snatching a soldier off the ground and taking him from zero to 125 mph in seconds.


In July 1943, the Army Air Force decided it needed a way to pick up downed pilots. After all, this was long before helicopters and the only way to get home was with ground troops. The idea they came up with was a modification to a mail pickup system, where a plane could fly low and slow and pick stuff up off the ground using steel cable.

According to the CIA, the service did initial tests picking up weighted containers, which accelerated over 17 g's — not exactly survivable for a human being. With modifications, this was brought down to 7 g's, although the first live test (using a sheep) failed after the harness twisted and strangled the poor unsuspecting animal.

Luckily, the Army had crazy paratroopers in its midst that volunteered (or were voluntold, it is the Army after all) to give it a whirl. The first was named Lt. Alex Doster. The CIA writes:

Lt. Alex Doster, a paratrooper, volunteered for the first human pickup, made on 5 September 1943. After a Stinson engaged the transfer rope at 125 mph, Doster was first yanked vertically off the ground, then soared off behind the aircraft. It took less than three minutes to retrieve him.

The Air Force continued to improve the system, even developing a package containing telescoping poles, transfer line, and harness that could be dropped by air. The first operational use of the system came in February 1944, when a C-47 snagged a glider in a remote location in Burma and returned it to India. Although the Air Force never used it to pick up individuals, the British apparently did use it to retrieve agents.

The system evolved into the Skyhook system, a joint venture between the Air Force and the CIA.

Check out this video of some of the tests:

NOW: This monster aircraft was the helicopter version of the AC-130 gunship >