de Havilland Sprite

The Sprite, (DSpr.n) was a British rocket engine built by de Havilland for use in RATO (Rocket-assisted take off) applications. For RATO use only a short burn time is required, with simplicity and light weight as major virtues. The intended market was for assisting take-off of de Havilland Comet 1 airliners (as hot and high operations in the British Empire were considered important) and also for V bombers carrying heavy nuclear weapons.[1][2][3] 30 successful test flights were carried out by Comets, from May 1951, but gas turbine performance improved rapidly, and so RATO was not required in service.

Sprite (DSpr.l)
Country of originUK
Manufacturerde Havilland
hydrogen peroxide monopropellant
Walter 'cold' cycle
Thrust5,000 lbf (22.2kN)
Total impulse55,000 lbf seconds
Burn time16 seconds
Propellant capacity39 gallons
Dry weight350 lbs

A hydrogen peroxide monopropellant was used, decomposed into oxygen and steam over a metallic calcium catalyst. The maximum thrust was 5,000 lbf (22 kN), varying over the 16 second burn time for a total impulse of 55,000 seconds.[4]

A technology update then took place with the proving of silver-plated nickel gauze packs as catalysts with the establishment of optimum loadings and flows. This practice was replicated in all future applications with the catalyst no longer consumed.

In April 1952 the DSpr.2 proved this modification impressively in Comet demonstrations with clean exhaust. The next stage was pursued with the Super Sprite (DSpr.4) following the ATO development precedent with 'hot' operation but now enhanced in simplicity by ability to inject kerosene fuel once chamber pressure was established by the catalysed peroxide flow. The units, flight approved in August 1953, reverted to the practice of being parachuted after firing for routine re-use in service operations with the Vickers Valiant V bomber.[5]


DSpr.1 Sprite
DSpr.2 Sprite
silver-plated nickel-gauze catalyst, tested in Comets during April 1952
DSpr.3 Sprite
DSpr.4 Super Sprite
The Super Sprite (DSpr.4) was a re-development of the Sprite application, using a significantly different 'hot' propellant technology, that of hydrogen peroxide / kerosene.[6][7] Although the peak thrust was actually reduced, burn time was 2.5 times longer, with a proportionate increase in total impulse.
For simplicity, there were no fuel pumps and the tanks were pressurised by nitrogen from nine cylinders wrapped around the combustion chamber.[4] The Super Sprite was packaged as a self-contained engine in its own nacelle, jettisoned after take-off and retrieved by parachute. Inflatable air bags cushioned its impact with the ground. To obtain a clean separation from the carrier aircraft, the production engines fitted to the Vickers Valiant had a small canard vane at the nose, pitching the nacelle downwards on separation.
De Havilland regarded the 166 units manufactured as a standard production item, supported by their Service Department alongside piston and turbojet engines. It was the first rocket engine to gain formal type approval.[8]
The Super Sprite project was cancelled in October 1960, at a reported total cost of £850,000.[9]


  1. "Enterprise in Rocketry Activity at De Havilland Engine Co" (PDF). The Aeroplane. 4 March 1955. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 February 2006.
  2. "More About the Super Sprite" (PDF). The Aeroplane. 29 July 1955. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 February 2006.
  3. "Super Sprite. The First British Production Type A.T.O. Rocket Motor". Flight: 183–188. 5 August 1955.
  4. E. Ower & J. Nayler (1956). High Speed Flight. London: Hutchinson's. pp. 97–98.
  5. "Super Sprite". Flight: 392. 20 March 1959.
  6. "Super Sprite". Flight: 298. 8 March 1957.
  7. "Super Sprite". Flight: 337. 30 August 1957.
  8. Hydrogen Peroxide as a Source of Energy. ( (PDF). de Havilland Engine Co. 1957. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 February 2006.
  9. "Cancelled projects: the list up-dated". Flight: 262. 17 August 1967.
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