2 Aircraft, 7 Flights: Why the XF-85 Goblin Fighter Never Took Off

2 Aircraft, 7 Flights: Why the XF-85 Goblin Fighter Never Took Off

The McDonnell Aircraft Corporation’s XF-85 Goblin was to be a fighter unlike any other.

Finally, Schoch pushed through the turbulance, but miscalculated his approach, colliding with the trapeze and damaging the Goblin’s canopy. Despite having his helmet and mask torn off in the collision, Schoch kept his bearing and got the tiny fighter under control, guiding it into a belly landing in a nearby dry lake bed. It was a disastrous first flight, and further testing was suspended for nearly two months.

During that time, changes were made to the XF-85 Goblin to make it more manageable for recapture, including boosting the trim power and adjusting the aircraft’s aerodynamic profile. Two more captive-carry flights followed before Schoch would make another attempt at successfully managing both a release and a capture from a flying mothership, which he accomplished on October 14 of that same year.


Further testing showed that the XF-85 Goblin itself was a pretty capable little airplane. It was considered very stable and user-friendly for the pilots onboard, and proved easy to recover from a spin. It seemed everything about the concept was working as it should, with the exception of the capture process.

On October 22, a bit more than a week after Schoch’s first entirely successful flight in the XF-85, the tiny fighter once again failed to hook on to the trapeze at the completion of its flight. After four attempts at managing the turbulence, Schoch finally managed to get the hook to the trapeze… only to have it break off as he made contact. For the second time, Schoch was forced to belly land the prototype aircraft in a dry lake bed.

Shoch would go on to belly land the XF-85 Goblin two more times after failing to successfully hook back up to the trapeze. Once on March 18 of 1949 and again on April 9.

The Goblin becomes fictional once again

The test flights of the XF-85 Goblin seemed to prove that the aircraft wasn’t going to be able to manage the job of serving as escort fighters for the B-36, but McDonnell still believed in the flying aircraft carrier concept itself. Aware that the Air Force wouldn’t want a parasite fighter that had a bad habit of crash landing every time it was deployed, they took proactive steps to come up with a new plan, a new fighter, and a new method of recovering the jets.

Their new fighter would be faster, nearly capable of breaking the sound barrier, and would be deployed and recovered using a trapeze system on a telescoping rod that could extend down below the turbulence created by the mother ship.


But the Air Force wasn’t as convinced that a flying aircraft carrier of this sort could work. Even if McDonnell could work all the issues out of deploying and recovering these parasite fighters, it was clear that only the most capable pilots would ever be able to manage such a feat, and even then, there was a high risk of failure.

But the real nail in the XF-85 Goblin’s coffin, as well as the entire concept of a flying aircraft carrier, was the broad adoption of in-flight refueling. While the concept had already been around for decades, it was only then becoming commonplace. While it did require some technical flying, the pilot requirements for in-flight refueling were still significantly lower than snagging the trapeze of a B-36 mother ship. The adoption of the Boeing KB-29P and its aerial refueling system in 1949 effectively spelled the end of flying aircraft carriers and their parasite fighters.

In all, only two XF-85 Goblins ever reached the skies a total of just seven times. Of those seven flights, the parasite fighter only made a successful capture with the hook and trapeze in three of them. The program was officially canceled on October 24, 1949.

This article first appeared at Sandboxx. This article is being republished due to reader interest.

Image: Wikipedia.