An aircraft that uses one or more rocket engines for propulsion, possibly in addition to jet engines. Rocket planes are able to reach much higher speeds than similarly-sized jet aircraft, but for much shorter periods of operation, typically only a few minutes. Because of the expense and the various practical difficulties of operating rocket engines, rocket planes are not suitable formost aviation needs, and so are invariably specialised, mostly experimental, aircraft.
The first rocket-powered aircraft was the Lippisch Ente, flown in 1928. 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. The Soviets, too, were experimenting with similar technology around this time in the form of the BI-1 and RP-318. The first truly successful rocket plane was the North American X-15, which was used for several years and eventually broke Mach 6.0. The development of SpaceShipOne, first flown in 2003, suggests that rocket planes may soon evolve to become true spaceplanes, capable of orbital and other extended missions beyond Earth's atmosphere. Another recently developed rocket plane, the EZ Rocket, will form the basis of the first racing rocket planes, the X-Racers.
Related categories AERODYNAMICS AND AERONAUTICS
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