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Prototype Sailplane Launches Itself With Retractable Jet

Traditional sailplanes have no motor. They're typically towed to altitude by an airplane or a very big winch. Once high enough, the pilot detaches from the towline to begin the search for the rising columns of air, known as thermals, that can keep the sailplane aloft for hours.

While tiny gasoline engines and small electric motors are common. Several people have experimented with jet engines on sailplane, but a small New Mexico company plans to start selling them soon. Desert Aerospace is building an alternative to the expensive self-launch gliders made in Germany by combing a high performance glider and a jet engine designed for use in unmanned aerial vehicles, both made in the Czech Republic.

The PBS TJ-100 weighs only 45 pounds and produces 240 pounds of thrust. Desert Aerospace has modified the two seat TST-14J sailplane to accept the tiny jet engine. For take off the jet engine sits directly behind the cockpit and allows the glider to climb at more than 900 feet per minute. Once at soaring altitude, it folds down inside of the fuselage and retractable doors provide an aerodynamic covering leaving the sailplane looking like any other glider.

Desert Aerospace is still testing the prototype which made its first flight earlier this spring. There aren't a lot of performance details or a price yet. But the company says it will be much less than existing self-launch gliders from the more expensive German manufacturers.

The jet engine does burn more than 20 gallons per hour, but with such impressive performance, a good soaring pilot will only need to run the engine for a few minutes to get to sufficient altitude.

Photos: Desert Aerospace / Jason Paur –

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