Science: Rocket Leap-Off

The difficult, sophisticated way to fly a jet plane off a short runway or no runway at all is to design it so it can stand on its tail like the Ryan Vertijet and zoom directly upward. The simple, brute-force way is to blast it into the air with rocket power. Last week the Air Force announced that the "zero-length" launch, done in the past with less advanced airplanes, has been accomplished with North American's supersonic F-100D fighter.

The blasted jet starts its leap from a trailer with a short, upward-slanting ramp. Strapped under...

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