Fulton System
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Basic Information

The Fulton No-Landing Extraction System is, or rather was, essentially self descriptive - a system for extracting personnel by air without the need to land an aircraft to collect them. This system is also, colloquially, known as a skyhook or skyhook extraction. The system comprises two elements - the first a harness, worn by the person to be extracted to which a balloon is attached by a long, high strength cable. The other element is fitted to a suitable cargo aircraft and consists of a claw like device for catching the balloon cable and then a set of rails that guide it around to the side door of the aircraft where it can be attached to a winch, the balloon jettisoned and the extractee hoisted up into the aircraft.

To use, the extractee simply arranges a suitable hilltop or other clear area (anywhere without significant obstacles into which he could be drawn whilst waiting to be pulled up), dons the harness, connects harness, balloon and cable and inflates the balloon from a cylinder of lighter than air gas (typically helium) supplied with the kit. The balloon is then released and allowed to climb to the length of the cable.
The driver of the receiving aircraft then, essentially, flies his machine straight at the balloon, allowing the claw to capture it and guide it, with its cable, to the side door as above. The extractee is then pulled up into the air, trailing along on the cable until winched in. Several people may be extracted in a single operation, but some delay must be allowed to avoid fouling the cables on one another - with proper planning the passes of the aircraft over the extraction site can be timed so that each extractee is aboard, or at least nearly aboard, when the balloon is being snared for the next.
Within reason, light items of cargo can also be extracted by this means, although this would tend to be limited to high value items as it is not a particularly efficient way of loading them. It is even possible for the same aircraft to deliver the kits by parachute container and then loiter for a while until the contents have been retrieved and activated.

Although apparently quite a violent method of extraction, injuries tend to be negligible and the worst effects on the extractee caused by the tendency to spin whilst being hauled in - which can be counteracted by spreading arms and legs to generate wind resistance1. The only recorded death apparently resulted from a failure of part of the aircraft end of the system.

The Fulton system was developed in the late 1960s from a less sophisticated technique which was - and still is - used to pick up light cargo (typically mail) without landing by trailing a grapple from the back of a cargo aircraft. It was used - primarily by the US - to extract people from all sorts of unsavoury places and was considered a boon to Operators and other clandestine types. Eventually, improvements in the range and flexibility of helicopters and other VTOL aircraft lead to the US losing interest in the system and it has, officially at least, not been operated by them since the late 1990s. That, of course, does not mean that no-one else has the capability.

Sources

Bibliography
1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • PC parties are typical of the sort of small group that might need to be pulled out of somewhere unsavoury using this sort of kit.
    • Good for building tension as the aircraft passes back and forth pulling people out whilst the Tcho-tchos swarm ever closer up the kill.
    • For the kewls, try a complicated aerial ballet between the extracting aircraft and Puff the- Magic Dragon, or some other form of close air support, trying to keep the party alive to be extracted.
  • Most useful where you need more range than you have from a VTOL and/or cannot land one. Or maybe above a VTOLs flying altitude, although that could be a little dodgy. Probably quite useful at sea as well.
  • As per the cargo, you don't necessarily need to be willing to be extracted like this - a prisoner can also be pulled out this way, but may not appreciate it much.
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