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catapult (kătˈəpŭltˌ), mechanism used to throw missiles in ancient and medieval warfare. At first, catapults were specifically designed to shoot spears or other missiles at a low trajectory (see bow and arrow). They were originally distinguished from ballistae and trebuchets, both of which were large military engines used to hurl stones and other missiles, but these distinctions later blurred. Later, larger catapults mounted on a single arm also hurled stones, pots of boiling oil, and incendiaries at a high trajectory. They were used to attack or defend fortifications. Catapults were widely employed in siege warfare, but with the introduction of artillery they passed from use. In the 20th cent. catapults using hydraulic pressure were reintroduced to launch aircraft from warships.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(1) In military terminology a throwing machine activated by the elastic force of twisted cords made from sinews, hair, and so forth. Catapults were used in ancient Greece and Rome up to the end of the fifth century mainly for besieging fortresses; lightweight versions (from the fourth century B.C.) were also used in field combat. Catapults hurled stones, logs, barrels with burning tar, and other objects over distances of a few hundred meters and lances up to 185 cm long and weighing up to 1.5 kg over distances up to 150 m.

(2) A device for imparting initial (launch) velocity to airplanes, gliders, and so forth on a short runway. A catapult consists of a driving apparatus (trolley, “shuttle”, hook, etc.), a guiding device (usually rails), and a launching mechanism. The driving apparatus with the aircraft attached to it is accelerated either by a jet engine or by employing the energy of steam, gunpowder, compressed air, springs, or rubber bands. Toward the end of the takeoff run, the driving mechanism is abruptly halted, and the aircraft separates from the driving apparatus with the necessary velocity for independent flight.

Catapults with horizontal guiding devices are employed mainly on aircraft carriers, where steam catapults are usually employed that provide an airplane acceleration on a runway of 60–80 m up to a velocity of 200–300 km/hr. Catapults with vertical guiding devices are used for practicing ejection from airplanes on the ground, training flight crews, and studying the effects of great strains on man over short time periods.


Korotkin, I. M., Z. F. Slepenkov, and B. A. Kolyzaev. Avianostsy. Moscow. 1964.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


(aerospace engineering)
A power-actuated machine or device for hurling an object at high speed, for example, a device which launches aircraft from a ship deck.
A device, usually explosive, for ejecting a person from an aircraft.
A mechanical device for hurling grenades or bombs.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


catapultclick for a larger image
i. A mechanism to launch, or hurl, objects into the air at flying speed. Catapults are used to launch heavy-loaded aircraft from decks of aircraft carriers.
ii. To eject a person from an airplane by means of a catapult.
An Illustrated Dictionary of Aviation Copyright © 2005 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved
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