Most aircraft capable of Short Take -Offs and Landings (STOL) are usually small and nimble kinds of planes, usually being either designed for use in adverse conditions or, more famously, fighter jets that find their homes on aircraft carriers. The reasons for this are pretty simple: the larger you the make the aircraft the more power you require to shorten its take off and past a certain point regular old jet engines simply aren’t going to cut it any more. However there have been a few notable examples of large aircraft using JATO rockets to drastically shorten their take off profile and the most notable of which is the Blue Angels’ C-130 dubbed Fat Albert:

If you’ve ever seen one of these beasts take off in person (or even say, an Airbus A380 which is a monster by comparison) then you’ll know that they seem to take forever to get off the ground. Strapping 8 JATOs that produce 1000lbs of thrust to the back of them makes a C-130 look a fighter jet when its taking off, gaining altitude at a rate that just seems out of this world. Of course this then begs the question of why you’d want to do something like this as it’s not often that a C-130 or any of its brethren find themselves in a situation where taking off that quickly would be necessary.

In truth it isn’t as the missions that these large craft fly are typically built around their requirements for a long runway. There have been some notable examples though with the most recent being the Iranian Host Crisis that occurred over 30 years ago. After the failure of a first rescue attempt the Pentagon set about creating another mission in order to rescue the hostages. The previous mission failure was largely blamed on the use of a large number of heavy lift helicopters, many of which didn’t arrive in operational condition. The thinking was to replace those helicopters with a single C-130 that was modified to land in a nearby sports stadium for evacuation of the extraction teams and the hostages.

The mission was called Operation Credible Sport and was tasked with modifying 2 C-130 craft to be capable of landing in a tight space. They accomplished this by the use of no less than 30 JATO rockets: 8 facing backward (for take off), 8 facing forward (for breaking on landing), 8 pointed downwards (to slow the descent), 4 on the wings and 2 on the tail. The initial flight test showed that the newly modified C-130 was capable of performing the take-off in the required space however on landing the 8 downward facing rockets failed to fire and, in combination with one of the pilots accidentally triggering the breaking rockets early, the craft met its tragic demise thankfully without out injury to any of the crew.

Even Fat Albert doesn’t do JATO runs any more as a shortage of the required rocketry spelled an end to it in 2009. It’s a bit of a shame as it’s a pretty incredible display but considering it had no practical use whatsoever I can see why they discontinued it. Still the videos of it are impressive enough, at least for me anyway.

About the Author

David Klemke

David is an avid gamer and technology enthusiast in Australia. He got his first taste for both of those passions when his father, a radio engineer from the University of Melbourne, gave him an old DOS box to play games on.

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