Watch These C-130s Make Next-Level Jet-Assisted Takeoffs

The U.S. Marine Corps C-130 Hercules, "Fat Albert," assigned to the U.S. Navy “Blue Angels” flight demonstration team, uses Jet Assisted Take Off (JATO) bottles during the 2005 Blue Angel Homecoming show. (U.S. Navy)

Everyone needs a helping hand sometimes, even the heavy-lifting aircraft of the U.S. military.

When an overloaded cargo plane needs just a little extra push to get off the ground, it gets it -- in the form of an explosive burst from a pair of jet engines.

The video above was taken in 2009 during an air show at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California. Back then, the Navy's Blue Angels demonstration team used a Marine Corps C-130 dubbed "Fat Albert" to carry its supplies, spare parts and anything else the team might need.

Fat Albert would open air shows with a Jet-Assisted Take-Off (JATO), to the delight of onlookers. Although Fat Albert no longer shows off its JATO capabilities, assisted takeoffs can still be used by military aircraft.

Sometimes called Rocket-Assisted Take-Offs (RATO), the concept is simple. Any time an aircraft is underpowered, rockets are used to help give the plane extra thrust to get it airborne.

Watch: Incredible Footage of a C-130 JATO

The idea dates back to the earliest days of aviation. In the 1920s, German aviators used rockets to help get gliders off the ground. During World War II, the practice became more common. Since early engines didn't create the thrust of modern-day jets, a little push was sometimes necessary, especially when a plane was flying heavy.

One of the first projects NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory worked on was a JATO-related test for the U.S. Army Air Corps. Back then, JATO was needed to help heavy bombers get airborne. The JPL's first JATO test came in 1941 at March Field, California.

Both the United States and the Soviet Union experimented with "zero length" takeoffs during the Cold War.

The U.S. had planned to use the method during Operation Credible Sport, a second but aborted attempt to rescue hostages held by Iran in 1979. Short-burst, high-thrust rockets would have been used for short landings and takeoffs.

Today's engines create much more thrust than earlier designs, so JATOs are increasingly rare. But the Air Force's LC-130 "Skibirds," which resupply Antarctica's McMurdo Station, still use JATO to depart the frozen continent.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at

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