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MythBusters Episode 197: JATO Rocket Car: Mission Accomplished?

Premier Date: May 1, 2013

An airman strapped a jet assisted take off (JATO) unit to his Chevy Impala, rocketed across the desert at 300 mph (480 km/h), and soared through the air for over a mile after hitting a bump.


All five MythBusters joined forces to test this myth and to commence their 10th anniversary season. This was the first myth ever tested on the series and it was still not fully resolved after two previous attempts (in Jet Assisted Chevy and Supersized Myths).

To begin, the Adam and Jamie tore out the inside of a Chevy Impala and welded in an extensive steel mounting system for the rockets. They used five rockets with 2,000 pounds (900 kg) of thrust each, for a total 10,000 pounds (4,500 kg) of thrust. Extra weight was also added to the front of the car to help balance it. Grant then modified the car to be driven remotely by adding controls for the steering, throttle, brake, and shifter. Kari and Tory modified a large dump truck to be used as a mobile bunker during the rocket tests. They protected the cabin of the truck with a thick steel cage and polycarbonate blast shields.

To conduct the rocket tests, the team traveled to a dry lake bed in the Mojave desert. A blast-resistant steel building was trucked in to protect the crew from any rouge rocket cars. A line of 50 pound (23 kg) sand bags was used to create a berm for the car to hit. Adam drove the Impala from within the mobile bunker and Kari fired the rockets at the appropriate moment. The approach and ignition were clean; the car accelerated to about 200 mph (320 km/h) before hitting the berm. After hitting the berm the car quickly tumbled wildly out of control, destroying itself. At this point the MythBusters decided they had replicated the conditions of the myth as perfectly as possible and declared it busted.

In an attempt to replicate the results of the myth by any means possible, the MythBusters used a second Impala with a total of six rockets attached for a total thrust of 12,000 pounds (5,400 kg). Instead of a berm, they built a large ramp out of prefabricated roof trusses. The ramp was 65 ft (20 m) long and 11 ft (3.3 m) high. With Jamie controlling the Impala this time, the car hit the ramp dead-on and briefly launched into the air. The car then tumbled forward and bounced off the ground again before smashing itself. It traveled a total of 600 ft (180 m) after hitting the ramp.