US Air Force’s Tiny Troublemaker: McDonnell XF-85 Goblin

McDonnell XF-85 Goblin

An ambitious aerial experiment 

Once upon a time in the world of aviation, there was a little known, quirky aircraft known as the McDonnell XF-85 Goblin. The Goblin was a peculiar creation, born out of necessity during the late 1940s, when the United States Air Force sought a fighter escort for its mighty bomber fleet. The Goblin’s purpose was simple: to be carried in the bomb bay of a larger aircraft and released mid-air to protect the bomber from enemy fighters. With a whimsical name and a peculiar appearance, the Goblin was an ambitious attempt to redefine aerial warfare, but alas, its story was to be short-lived.

The McDonnell Aircraft Corp. developed the XF-85 Goblin “parasite” fighter to protect B-36 bombers flying far beyond the range of conventional escort fighters at The Museum Of The United States Air Force, Dayton, OH

The tiny Goblin began its journey at the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation in 1947. The team behind its development, led by the renowned aeronautical engineer Herman D. Barkey, lovingly crafted its unusual design. Measuring only 15 feet in length with a wingspan of 21 feet, the Goblin was a marvel of compact engineering. Its minuscule stature earned it the nickname “The Flying Egg” among the aviation community.

McDonnell XF-85
To fit inside the parent aircrafts bomb bay, the XF-85s wings folded up. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Troubled Test Flights

Despite the Goblin’s small size, it boasted a remarkable top speed of 650 miles per hour, thanks to its turbojet engine. The aircraft was armed with four 0.50-caliber machine guns, intended to provide the bomber with adequate protection during its dangerous missions.

As the XF-85 underwent testing, it quickly became apparent that it was not without its flaws. The aircraft’s first test flight on August 23, 1948, proved to be a challenging experience for test pilot Edwin Schoch. The Goblin was released from the belly of a B-29 Superfortress, and as it dropped away, it began to oscillate violently. Though Schoch managed to regain control, the violent motions caused a tear in his flight suit, and a subsequent frostbite injury to his left leg.

Despite the troubled first flight, testing continued. The Goblin’s most significant flaw was revealed during the aerial recovery attempts. The aircraft was designed to be retrieved by the B-29 using a trapeze mechanism, but connecting the two aircraft mid-air proved to be an exceedingly difficult task. Of the seven attempted recoveries, only three were successful. The inability to effectively retrieve the Goblin mid-air made it impractical as a deployed escort fighter.

McDonnell XF-85 cockpit
McDonnell XF-85 cockpit at The Museum of the United States Air Force Dayton, OH

The End of the Goblin 

Additionally, the XF-85’s limited fuel capacity and lack of landing gear meant that it could not be deployed independently or perform a conventional landing. In comparison to other jet fighters of the time, such as the F-86 Sabre, the Goblin’s performance was also found lacking.

As the Goblin’s flaws became increasingly evident, enthusiasm for the project began to wane. With the development of mid-air refueling technology and the introduction of long-range jet fighters, the Goblin’s unique purpose was no longer necessary. After only two prototypes were built and tested, the United States Air Force announced the cancellation of the XF-85 project in October 1949.

XF-85 Goblin
Text pilot Edwin Foresman Schoch with the plane in which his legend was born. Four of the seven flights of the XF-85 ended with emergency landings on the airplane’s special ventral skid

The story of the McDonnell XF-85 Goblin is a testament to the spirit of innovation and the pursuit of the impossible. Though its life was brief, the Goblin remains an iconic symbol of an era filled with daring dreams and unconventional solutions. Today, the last remaining Goblin can be found at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, where it stands as a quirky monument to the unrelenting drive of human ambition.