Rocket-powered aircraft

Rocket-powered aircraft

A rocket-powered aircraft or rocket plane is an aircraft that uses a rocket for propulsion, sometimes in addition to airbreathing jet engines. Rocket planes can achieve much higher speeds than similarly-sized jet aircraft, but for much shorter periods of operation, typically only a few minutes. Unhindered by the need for oxygen from the atmosphere they are suitable for very high altitude flight. They are also capable of delivering much higher acceleration and shorter takeoffs.

Rockets have been used simply to assist the main propulsion in the form of Jet Assisted Take Off (JATO) also known as "Rocket Assisted Take Off" (RATO). Not all rocket planes are of the conventional takeoff like "normal" aircraft. Some types have been air-launched from another plane, while other types have taken off vertically - nose in the air and tail to the ground ("tail-sitters"). It is also possible, that rocket planes launch vertically without changing their orientation.

Because of the heavy propellant use and the various practical difficulties of operating rockets, the majority of rocket planes that have been built for experimental use, interceptor fighters and space aircraft.


The first rocket-powered aircraft was the Lippisch Ente, flown in 1928 [] . The Russian Bereznyak-Isayev BI-1 flew in 1942.

The only rocket plane ever to be mass-produced was the Messerschmitt Me 163 in 1944, one of several German World War II attempts at rocket-powered aircraft. []

In the 1950s the British developed mixed power designs to cover the performance gap that existed in current turbojet designs. The rocket was the main engine for delivering the speed and height required for high speed interception of high level bombers and the turbojet gave increased fuel economy in other parts of flight, most notably to make sure the aircraft was able to make a powered landing rather than risking an unpredictable gliding return. The Saunders-Roe SR.53 was a successful design and was due to be developed into production when economics forced curtailment of most British aircraft programmes in the late 1950s. The advancement of the turbojet engine output made a return to mixed power unnecessary.

The rocket plane Bell X-1 was the first aircraft to break the speed of sound in level flight [] . The development of X-1 was the driving force behind the development of the Space Program [] .

The successful pure rocket plane was the North American X-15, which was used for several years and eventually broke Mach 6.0. However it was incapable of taking off under its own power and was a pure research vehicle.

The development of SpaceShipOne, first flown in 2003, and XCOR Aerospace's EZ-Rocket, suggests that rocket planes may become more common.

ee also

*List of rocket planes
* List of vehicle speed records
*Rocket Racing League (RRL)

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