Skip to main content

Curator's Choice Video Collection

Cradle of Aviation Museum Historian and Curator, Josh Stoff, curates interesting short YouTube videos and provides commentary.

Virtual Museum Home > Curator's Choice > Zero Length Launches!

Zero-Length Launches!
YouTube Channel: spottydog4477, posted October 25, 2009

The Zero-Length Launch System was a unique method whereby jet fighters could be near vertically launched using solid-fuel rocket motors to rapidly gain speed and altitude. The single-use rocket motors would drop away once expended. These experiments occurred during the 1950s amid the formative years of the Cold War.

The operational use of this system would have employed mobile launch platforms to disperse and hide aircraft in wooded areas, greatly reducing their vulnerability at fixed locations. It was feared that at the start of any war the Soviet Union would attack all known military airfields with small tactical nuclear weapons eliminating any possibility of an airborne counterattack. By adopting this system, pre-positioned fighter and attack aircraft could be launched from hidden positions, like forests, making their concealment impossible to detect in advance. Several years of testing by the Air Force found that launching aircraft with this method proved to be relatively trouble-free, however, a runway was still required for the plane to land. Eventually, all projects involving this system were abandoned, largely due to the increased efficiency and accuracy of unmanned guided missiles. 

The first aircraft launched in this method were Long Island built Republic F-84 Thunderjets, beginning in 1953. The F-84 was a fighter-bomber first produced in 1946. During the Korean War in the early 1950s, Republic F-84s carried out the majority of strike missions in North Korea. In this video we first see unmanned launches of F-84s, just to see if the rocket could get the plane in the air, before progressing on to manned launches involving brave test pilots. The pilot would have had the aircraft’s jet engine running at full throttle when the missile was fired.

An original Republic F-84 may be seen in the museum’s Jet Age gallery.