Ah, 2008, you are being a cool year so far, but not as cool as 1958, when the Fulton Air Surface-to-Air Recovery System started to operate: attach yourself to a helium ballon using a nylon cable capable of sustained 4,000 pounds, shoot it into the air and wait until a cargo plane grabs you and takes you into dangerous areas. If you are a special operations soldier, that is. The system began its life as a variation of another crazy scheme used by special-ops in World War II. Then, instead of a helium balloon they used a pair of poles, which were then grappled with a plane towing cable and hook. At the beginning of the 50s, Robert Edison Fulton Jr.—an inventor working for the CIA— thought about using a weather balloon and a nylon line. He presented his invention to his boss, director of CIA technical research Admiral de Florez, who directed him to the military. The Office of Naval Research put him to work and by 1958 the first real Skyhook pick-up took place, when a Navy P2V got US Marines' Staff Sergeant Levi W. Woods with less shock than a parachute opening.
Th Air Force stopped using it in 1995, after years of winching people to the skies using C-130 Hercules and with only one casualty in 17 years of use. Long range helicopters made the system less useful, but Fulton's invention is still alive in other armies: in 2001 a British Hercules rescued an injured spec-op soldier in Afghanistan.
And besides, any device that gets to be used in an actual James Bond movie (Thunderball) gets extra points for us. [Wikipedia]