If anyone has ever had the opportunity to see the Blue Angles fly, one would also notice the big C-130 nicknamed Fat Albert that carries the teams equipment, use a system called a Jet Assisted takeoff or JATO.
The way JATO works is pretty simple, but amazingly effective. One, or a number of boosters are attached to the aircraft. These are ignited and produce very high thrust. The more thrust the aircraft has, the faster it accelerates down the runway and the less takeoff distance it uses in the process. The boosters are actually rocket motors, similar to a bottle in shape. JATO's use either liquid-fuel or solid-fuel, the latter being the most popular of the two, due to higher thrust and ease of handling. When the fuel is ignited, it combusts, exhaust passes through acceleration nozzles and the gas accelerates to extremely high speed. This creates thrust. After the fuel is depleted, the bottle is usually jettisoned from the aircraft.
The first JATO's were used by the Germans in the 1920's to propel gliders into the air without the need of a winch or tow-plane. In World War 2, the British used boosters to shoot Hawker Hurricanes off the fronts of merchant ships, to provide some air-cover. After shooting down any enemy resistance, the pilot would then fly to a friendly base and land there. This system was however inefficient and it was used only a total of 8 times by the end of the war.
During World War 2, the Germans also experimented with liquid JATO's. The liquid used was pure Hydrogen Peroxide. These were used to allow their bombers to takeoff short runways in the Eastern Front. These boosters were expensive due to them being liquid fuel rockets and parachutes were fitted to them to allow re-use after being jettisoned.
The first American aircraft to carry out an assisted takeoff was an Ercoupe in 1941. After World War 2, the first jet-fighters were introduced. However in these early times, jet engines were weak and this often left these aircraft significantly underpowered. To remedy this, many early jet aircraft were fitted with boosters. As the years progressed, so did engine design, and aircraft were finally able to do away with the boosters. They however still saw use to propel heavy aircraft to takeoff in hot and high conditions, where the air is not very dense, meaning less lift and thrust. Nowadays, some aircraft still use JATO's to takeoff from short runways.
The term JATO and RATO have been used interchangeably in the past. Both however mean the same thing.