William M. Leary's, "Robert Fulton's Skyhook and Operation Coldfeet" discusses the skyhook origins and how the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) used the technology. The Skyhook was originally called the All American System around the 1930's and 40's. This system was originally designed to quickly pick up service-people behind enemy lines. It used two steel poles and a transfer line. The CIA began using the All American System in 1952. Civil Air Transport (CAT) pilots made rounds in Japan and retrieved a mechanic named Ronald E. Lewis.
Robert Edison Fulton Jr. was a talented inventor who believed the All American System could improve. Fulton finalized Skyhook in 1958. This improved retrieval system included a harness that was attached to a 500ft nylon line. The harness could also be used for a person or cargo.
So how did it work? The aircraft would fly into the line, which was aimed at a bright marker. The line is then caught between the forks, which were attached on the aircraft's nose. A ballon was then released simultaneously as the sky anchor was secured to the aircraft. The pickup crew is then attached to a J-hook and is pulled onto the aircraft.
The first human pickup occurred on August 12, 1958. The process experienced some complications, but the person was picked up and on board in six minutes. In 1960, Captain Edward A. Rodgers used Skyhook to pick up mail in Point Barrow, Alaska.
The CIA has always used Skyhook to extract officers from hostile environments. It is not just used for James Bond and Batman films. The CIA first used Skyhook in 1962 during Operation Coldfeet. The goal was to to extract CIA officers and materials that were in an abandoned Soviet ice station. The ice station was believed to be monitoring American submarines. Operation Coldfeet was successful and brought valuable intelligence.