Nuclear Friday: Goblins and Other Parasites

Today The Board will take a look into the earliest days of nuclear delivery systems. The US had The Bomb, it was starting to look like the Cold War was really going to be a thing, and no one had a clue what was going on. There’s nothing like confusion to breed innovation in technology and strategy. Things were going to be weird for a few years.

But in most ways, US strategic thinkers were trying to refight WWII. And you would too, if you had this monster born of WWII thinking, the B-36



That’s the 1948 version with six piston driven pusher props an four little turbojets in pods near the wingtips. The B-36 was first planned in 1941, before the US was in the war,  as a superweapon that could reach Japan from Hawaii, the Urals and Caspian from Iceland, and a hypothetical Nazi occupied UK from much of the US.

But if there’s anything the US 8th Air Force learned in WWII, it’s that bombers can’t go it alone in daylight. The 8th struggled on over Germany for months in the face terrible losses. The situation did not improve until the Rolls-Royce modified versions of the P-51 became available. The P-51 was a war-winning escort fighter once it had the range to get to Germany and back.

But in the late 40’s and early 50’s, there were no fighters that could accompany the B-36, and it seemed there never would be.

Enter the Goblin…..Squeeee!


Perhaps a B-36 could carry a tiny little fold-up fighter plane in one of its three massive bomb bays? They built a few of these in 1948. The idea was to lower the XF-85 Goblin on a trapeze assembly in the bomb bay. The airflow around the Goblin would stabilize it until it retracted its hook and entered a free fall dive. The power of the airflow from the dive would get the turbines in its engine going fast enough that it could perform a cold start.That had better work, the Goblin did not have an electric starter. Where would you put it? The Goblin would then destroy or drive off all interceptors an as it was running out of fuel be recovered by its B-36 mothership.

For a brief moment it seemed the Goblin was the answer. There were questions, sure. Would each B-36 carry a Goblin in one bomb bay and two (maybe four, they’re getting smaller) in the other two bays? Might there dedicated B-36 motherships with THREE Goblins?

But alas, this was not to be. The Goblin was cancelled in 1949, a little over a year after the program began. The B-36 never even carried a Goblin in a test flight. The B-36 was too expensive to risk. Goblins were tested with surplus B-29’s from WWII, as depicted in the header image of this post. The results were poor. Release went well, but there were accidents upon recovery. Furthermore, the Goblin’s four .50 cal guns were considered to have insufficient power to damage likely Soviet interceptors. In 1949, US intelligence had a hint the MiG-15 might be coming.

Now you might be thinking that the Goblin designers must have been high. No, we will now examine what aircraft engineers would do when they have the best weed 1950 can offer.

Flying High: Project FICON


“Dude, let’s clamp two little airplanes onto the wingtips of a big plane to make a giant airplane!”

“Nah, bro; How could it take off?”

“Whoa, yer right dude. (toke) maybe the little planes could fire their engines as takeoff boost and then turn ’em off at altitude. Or…or…um (toke)…(cough) Yeah, they could take off separately and then join up.”

“Um, yeah bro…(sucks lower lip from cottonmouth)…aileron torque bro. Big plane in middle can’t bank with weight of little planes on the wings.

“Duuude, Um….wait…wait. The flaps of the little planes could act as ailerons for the whole plane system. Sssysstem maan. It’s a unified system!”

Leaving aside our stoned engineers, I should point out that the only example of a dual F-84 tip-tow configuration is on a B-29. The B-36 did a few tentative single tip-tow tests with the F-84. But they never risked dual tip tow. Instead, they did this:


It’s the Goblin trapeze again, but with the heavier F-84, it worked. The F-84 blocked two bomb bays, but the third could hold a nuke. All seemed well.

That was until the MiG-15 debuted in the Korean War. The MiG had incredible climb, heavy armament, and excellent high-altitude performance. The MiG-15 was hard to fly at lower altitudes and the F-84 had a chance. But at B-36 altitudes the F-84 was outclassed.

So FICON sought out new missions. A B-36 could drop an F-84 armed only with cameras that would violate Soviet airspace and then dash back to the mothership where the Soviets would not attack it.

But it gets better. Once atomic bombs became small enough for light tactical delivery, they adapted the F-84 as a bomber carried by another bomber. The F-84 could be released as tactical bomber to pave the way or the B-36 could drop a bomb or two and then release a nuclear equipped F-84 for a deeper strike.

In 1955 a B-36 took off from the UK and flew a great circle route to Chicago where it made a simulated nuclear attack. It activated a transmitter to simulate its radar jamming equipment and flew near San Francisco, where it dropped its F-84 armed with a dummy nuclear bomb. The F-84 evaporated the Golden Gate Bridge.

But around this time Curtis LeMay asked that no more parasite programs should be funded by Congress and that the B-36 should be phased out.

Why were parasites abandoned? 

Why indeed? If you read Wikipedia or countless articles elsewhere you will learn that parasite fighters were abandoned because in-flight refueling extended the range of fighters.

NO, NO,  NO. Have you seen Dr. Strangelove? Did the bombers in that movie have an escort? No, Major Kong went in with just his crew.

In 1955 LeMay decided the B-52 needed no escort. It was fast enough to evade interception and could duck under the radar if it had to.

And by the late 1950s surface to air missiles are a bigger threat than interceptors. Dr Strangelove gets that right. Kong’s crew is able to use ECM tech to deflect an incoming missile.

Parasites were defunct as soon as they were created.


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