One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
A system for assisting the take-off of an aircraft or missile in which a (usually detachable) unit of rocket engines is used temporarily to provide additional thrust. Frequently attributive, especially in "RATO unit".
1940s; earliest use found in Joplin (Missouri) Globe. Acronym from the initial letters of rocket-assisted take- off from rocket + assisted + take-off.
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