During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union battled for every advantage, including studying the Arctic for its strategic value. For seven days in May 1962, under Project Coldfeet, the U.S. intelligence community pursued a rare opportunity to collect intelligence firsthand from an abandoned Soviet research station high in the Arctic.
The Soviet drift station -- located on a floating ice island -- had been hastily evacuated when shifting ice made the base runway unusable. Since the ice was breaking apart -- and normal air transport to the island was now impossible -- the Soviets felt the remote base and its equipment and research materials would be crushed and thoroughly destroyed in the Arctic Sea. Unfortunately for the Soviets, they were wrong.
On May 28, using pilots and a B-17 from CIA proprietary Intermountain Aviation -- accompanied by a polar navigator borrowed from Pan American Airlines -- two intelligence collectors were successfully dropped by parachute onto the ice.
The B-17 -- now rigged with Robert Fulton's Skyhook -- returned on June 2 to recover the team and their take. The Skyhook was a unique airborne pickup device that included a nose yolk and a special winch system. The key measure of Coldfeet's success was the unprecedented safe removal of the investigative teams and many critical items.
The mission yielded valuable information in the U.S. intelligence community on the Soviet Union's drift station research activities. The team found evidence of advanced acoustical systems research to detect under-ice U.S. submarines and efforts to develop Arctic anti-submarine warfare techniques.
Undated photo from U.S. Air Force.
* Longer CIA article: @
* Entry from "Inside CIA: Lessons in Intelligence" (book by Sharad Chauhan, 2004): @
* "Project Coldfeet: Secret Mission to a Soviet Ice Station" (book by William M. Leary and Leonard A. LeSchack, 1996): @
* "Fulton Skyhook Aerial Recovery System" (Lockheed Aircraft Corp.): @
* Video of system in action (from www.militaryvideo.com): @
* Poster left behind at station by Soviets (from Naval War College Museum): @