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This is what it's like to actually be recovered by MGS 5's Fulton balloon

If you're playing MGS 5 (opens in new tab) then you've been harvesting sheep and soldiers alike using the game's Fulton Recovery System - a balloon that lifts things skyward to be recovered by plane. Just in case you didn't know, it's a real thing that the CIA actually used in the 60s, and didn't officially retire until 1996 as helicopters became a far more attractive alternative.

Here's a look at the actual system in use:

And here's what that's like involving people:

Note this guy, about 20 seconds in, who seems unusually happy about being yoinked into the sky by a passing plane:

The original system was developed in the 50s by Robert Edison Fulton Jr, as an improvement to a previous WW2 system that had used lines strung between poles. During the Cold War the US and Soviets used Arctic bases to spy on submarines and the remoteness meant the only way in was via air. Helicopters at the time didn't have the range, which led to the whole balloon / plane / HOLYSHITTHISWASATERRIBLEIDEAAAAAAHH!

It was Fulton's system that's referred to as the 'Skyhook' and appears in The Dark Knight. The first live test involved a pig that immediately tried to attack the crew (opens in new tab) once it was in the plane. While the first human to try it out was Staff Sergeant Levi Woods, who didn't attack anyone but described the lift off as like (opens in new tab) "a kick in the pants". It was eventually used in the field for the first time during Operation Coldfeet, a 1962 US operation to examine/ransack an abandoned Soviet Arctic base.

The official CIA page on the Fulton System (way to keep a secret guys) says it fell out of use not long into the 60s, as helicopter ranges improved, but concludes that "it appears likely that Fulton's Skyhook did find employment in a number of specialised clandestine operations" afterwards.

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Leon Hurley
Senior Guides Co-ordinator

I'm currently GamesRadar's Senior Guides Co-ordinator, which means I've had a hand in producing or writing all of the guide and tips content on the site. I also write reviews, previews and features, and do video. Previously I worked for Kotaku, and the Official PlayStation Magazine and website. I'm a big fan of open world games, horror, and narrative adventures.