19 August 1960

Fairchild C-119J-FA Flying Boxcar 51-8037 of the 6593rd Test Squadron recovers the Discoverer XIV satellite, 19 August 1960. (U.S. Air Force)

Discoverer XIV was a Key Hole KH-1 satellite of the Corona Program. It carried a 70mm reconnaissance camera, and was launched into a polar orbit aboard a Thor-Agena rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. After 17 orbits, 7 of which crossed over “denied territory,” the satellite was de-orbited.

A Fairchild C-119J Flying Boxcar, 51-8037, of the 6593rd Test Squadron, Hickham Air Force Base, Hawaii, was sent to recover the satellite as it descended through the lower atmosphere by parachute. The air crew sighted the parachute at about 8,000 feet (2,438 meters), 360 miles (580 kilometers) southwest of Hawaii. On their third attempt, they were able to snag the satellite and parachute with recovery equipment deployed under the transport and then pull it inside. This was the first time that film from a satellite had been recovered.

Corona 1 photographic image of Mys Shmidta Air Field, USSR. This image, taken 18 August 1960, has a resolution of 40 feet x 40 feet ( meters). (National Reconnaissance Office)
Corona 1 photographic image of Mys Shmidta Air Field, Chukotka, Russia, USSR, an intercontinental bomber staging base built in 1954. This image, taken 18 August 1960, has a resolution of 40 feet × 40 feet (12.2 meters × 12.2 meters). The runway is 2,450 meters (8,038 feet) long. (National Reconnaissance Office)

The Discoverer program was publicly explained as an Earth sciences research project, but was actually a Central Intelligence Agency reconnaissance of the Soviet Union and China. Corona 1 missions located 64 Soviet airfields and 26 surface-to-air (SAM) missile sites.

51-8037 had been built as a C-119F, but was converted to a C-119J in 1957. The satellite recovery airplane is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Fairchild C-119J-FA Flying Boxcar 51-8037 at the National Air and Space Museum, Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 thoughts on “19 August 1960

  1. I have been reading your website for the last few months and using the links for my facebook page. I have been enjoying studying these topics.

    It would really help if there were a subject heading so I knew what I was reading before I have to get into the second paragraph to find out.

    Thanks for the effort.
    Matthew Merrell

  2. My brother in law, Maj. Ed Pressgrove, flew these missions out of Hickham, I have his flight suit patch which says ‘Catch a Falling Star’. And also a bronze hook they used to snag the parachutes, not as big as you would think. He said it was pretty hard flying and you only had a couple of chances to catch them or sometimes the hook would rip through the chutes. He had plenty of gun camera footage of the approach and hooking of the satellites. Thanks for this rare history. Cheers! Some history here:


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