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.
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.
© 2015, Bryan R. Swopesby