Did You Know the Plane Extraction Scene from 'The Dark Knight' Used Real CIA Technology?

Did You Know the Plane Extraction Scene from 'The Dark Knight' Used Real CIA Technology?

Oct 17, 2012

Just because something is old news doesn't mean it's not cool to learn about. The CIA's operation to extract personnel from the Iranian hostage crisis by staging a fake movie production, for example, has been publicly disclosed knowledge for decades, but most people didn't know the story until Ben Affleck made a movie about it. Similarly, most people may not realize that the skyhook system Batman uses to extract Lau from Hong Kong in The Dark Knight is not a flight of Christopher Nolan's fancy. It was a real way the CIA used to rescue people from hot zones without having to land a plane.

The real name of it is the Fulton surface-to-air recovery system, and it works pretty much like it does in The Dark Knight: an agent has a self-inflating balloon, which lifts a heavy duty line into the air. A plane then flies overhead and hooks the line, bringing with them the precious cargo.

The Dark Knight wasn't even the first movie to use the skyhook to rescue its hero. That honor belongs to Thunderball, which saw James Bond using the system mid-ocean to lift both him and Domino to safety at the end of the film. It was also used in John Wayne's The Green Berets, as well the TV shows Alias and The Unit, plus a handful of video games, though most of those actually employ skyhook after the CIA retired it (TDK has the good sense to refer to it being an old piece of technology).

The CIA stopped using the skyhook system in 1996, not because it was unreliable - only one person was killed using it throughout its decades of use - but because increased helicopter capabilities rendered it outdated. Its biggest (declassified, at least) success was 1962's Operation Coldfeet, wherein the Office of Naval Research parachuted two officers onto an abandoned Russian research station floating in the middle of the Arctic Ocean and then lifted them, and their newly discovered intel about Russia's advanced program to detect submarines under ice, to safety. 

For more about skyhook and Operation Coldfeet, head straight to the CIA.

And here's how it was used in The Dark Knight


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