During WWII, American and British military developed a system to retrieve people following airborne operations, without landing. Then after the war, the Americans experimented with other ways to pull people aboard a plane in mid air. Check out some bizarre videos of people being plucked into the sky.
The World War II method of pulling personnel and cargo without landing a plane involved a pair of poles and a line, but this method wasn’t successful enough for the U.S. and British military. So in 1950, the US Air Force, the United States Navy and the CIA tried a different method, involving a weather balloon and nylon line (capable of holding 4,000 pounds). This in turn led to the invention of STARS (Fulton surface-to-air recovery system, also called the Skyhook) by Robert Edison Fulton, Jr. (1909-2004). This system was used by US Air Force on C-130 Hercules transport aircrafts for almost half a century, until its retirement in 1996.
A military newsreel from 1944
A test from the 1950s
Retrieving people at Edwards Air Force Base in 1966 and Phang Rang AB in 1968
A Lockheed MC-130 picks up some cargo using Fulton surface-to-air recovery system
But... how does it work?