Special Patrol Insertion/Extraction (SPIE) flights offer a unique way to get troops into and out of terrain that a helicopter may not be able to land on. To the untrained observer, SPIE flights might look like a helicopter simply lowers a rope, warfighters clip on with carabiners, and then they get taken for one hell of a crazy ride, dangling beneath the aircraft… and this is one situation where the casual observer would actually be right.

SPIE flights, for all the skill required on behalf of the pilots at the stick of the helicopter, really are helicopter flights with a string of soldiers dangling beneath them on ropes that usually range in length from 120 to 150 feet long. As many as ten soldiers clip themselves to set spots on the rope at different lengths, then as the helicopter gains altitude, it lifts the soldiers one by one. The end result looks like this:

(USMC Photo)

The U.S. Military acknowledges that this method of insertion isn’t as advantageous to the warfighter as simply fast roping out of the same Blackhawk; however, there are some circumstances that simply don’t lend themselves to the traditional fast-roping methodology (wherein troops quickly descend from the helicopter via ropes, rather than hitch a ride tied to one). SPIE methodologies have proven particularly viable for certain kinds of extractions — like out of the water.

SPIE Extraction training (Flickr)

The SPIE method grew out of the Vietnam era STABO, or STAbilized BOdy, rig. The STABO rig was developed by Sergeant First Class Clifford L. Roberts, a Green Beret that witnessed one of his fellow Special Forces soldiers get injured when he fell from the McGuire extraction rigs utilized at the time. The STABO served as a load bearing rig for the operator but bore a strong resemblance to the setup used in parachutes. As a result, special operators could utilize quick extractions from the jungles of Vietnam simply by clipping their carabiners to a rope lowered by a helicopter floating above the tree tops. In the dense jungle warfare of that conflict, STABO rigs and the early iterations of SPIE extractions saved countless lives.