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JATO is an acronym for Jet-fuel Assisted Take Off. It is a system for helping overloaded aircraft into the air by providing additional thrust in the form of small rockets.

The term is used interchangeably with the (more specific) term RATO, for Rocket-Assisted Take Off (or in RAF parlance RATOG for Rocket-Assisted Take Off Gear).


Early experiments and World War II

Early experiments using rockets to boost gliders into the air were conducted in Germany in the 1920s (Lippisch Ente), and later both the Royal Air Force and the Luftwaffe introduced such systems in World War II.[1] The British system used fairly large solid fuel rockets to shoot planes (typically the Hawker Hurricane) off a small ramp fitted to the fronts of merchant ships, known in service as Catapult armed merchantment (or CAM Ships), in order to provide some cover against German reconnaissance planes. After firing, the rocket was released from the back of the plane to fall into the water and sink. The task done, the pilot would fly to friendly territory if possible or parachute from the plane, hopefully to be picked up by one of the escort vessels. Over two years the system was only employed nine times to attack German aircraft with 8 kills recorded for the loss of a single pilot.

The Luftwaffe also used the technique in order to help their small bombers, and the enormous Gigant, Messerschmitt Me 321 glider, conceived in 1940 for the invasion of Britain, and used to supply the Russian front which also had air tow assistance from up to three bombers, into the air with loads that would have made the takeoff run too long otherwise. This became especially important late in the war when the lengths of usable runways were severely curtailed due to the results of Allied bombing. Their system typically used Walter HWK 500 Starthilfe ("start-help") rocket engines driven by breaking down T-Stoff, essentially almost pure hydrogen peroxide. A parachute pack at the front of the motor was used to slow its fall after being released from the plane, so the system could be re-used. First experiments were held in 1937 on an Heinkel He 111, piloted by test-pilot Erich Warsitz at Neuhardenberg, a large field about 70 kilometres east of Berlin, listed as a reserve airfield in the event of war.[2] Other German experiments with JATO were aimed at assisting the launch of interceptor aircraft such as the Messerschmitt Me 262, in their Heimatsch├╝tzer special versions so that they could reach enemy bomber formations sooner, with differing formats of RATO assist rocket motors used on each of the three versions proposed, all liquid fueled. Two prototypes of the Heimatsch├╝tzer versions of the Me 262 were built and test flown, of the three designs proposed.

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