Monday, April 22, 2019

Northrop N-9M Flying Wing, N9MB: Fatal accident occurred April 22, 2019 in Norco, Riverside County, California and Incident occurred August 21, 2016 in Chino, San Bernardino County, California

The National Transportation Safety Board traveled to the scene of this accident. 

Additional Participating Entity: 
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Riverside, California 

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Location: Norco, CA
Accident Number: WPR19FA118
Date & Time: 04/22/2019, 1210 PDT
Registration: N9MB
Aircraft: NORTHROP N9M
Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal 

On April 22, 2019, about 1210 Pacific daylight time, a Northrop N9M airplane, N9MB, was destroyed when it impacted terrain near Norco, California. The airline transport pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was registered to and operated by the Planes of Fame Air Museum under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the personal flight. The local flight originated from the Chino Airport, Chino, California, about 1202.

Multiple witnesses located near the accident site reported observing the airplane flying on a north eastern heading at a low altitude when it performed a "barrel roll." Several witnesses reported that after the maneuver, the airplane "wobbled [from] side to side" before the airplane's canopy separated. Shortly after, the airplane entered a steep right turn, and descended into the ground in a nose low attitude.

Examination of the accident site revealed that the airplane impacted the outpatient housing yard of the California Rehabilitation Center. The debris path was about 474 ft in length, 200 ft wide, and oriented on a magnetic heading of about 124°. All major structural components of the airplane were observed within the wreckage debris path.

The wreckage was recovered to a secure location for further examination.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: NORTHROP
Registration: N9MB
Model/Series: N9M
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: No
Operator: Planes of Fame Air Museum
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: KCNO, 650 ft msl
Observation Time: 1853 UTC
Distance from Accident Site: 4 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 21°C / 11°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Few / 11000 ft agl
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 11 knots / , 250°
Lowest Ceiling: None
Altimeter Setting: 30 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point: Chino, CA (CNO)
Destination: Chino, CA (CNO)

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 33.929444, -117.575278

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board investigation may contact them by email, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email

David Vopat, 51, of Chino, the pilot who died in the Monday crash of a vintage N9MB Northrop Flying Wing in a Norco prison yard, sits atop the plane known as the flying wing in this file photo. (Courtesy Chino Planes of Fame Museum)

The pilot who died in the Monday crash of a vintage  N9MB Northrop Flying Wing in a Norco prison yard has been identified as David Vopat, 51, of Chino.

The Riverside County Coroner’s office released Vopat’s name early Wednesday afternoon. He died when the historic plane crashed shortly after noon into the yard of the California Rehabilitation Center.

One inmate suffered scratches, but there were no serious injuries to prisoners or staff at the 98-acre facility. Vopat was the only person on board the plane.

The cause of the crash is under investigation. The plane, which was destroyed in the crash, was the last remaining of four models in the N9M series built by Northrop in 1944-45.

The plane was restored and owned by the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino.

Original article can be found here ➤

A prototype Northrop N-9 Flying Wing, a revolutionary tailless aircraft, shown over California during a 1942 test flight, was restored by volunteers at the Planes of Fame museum at the Chino, California airport. 

File photo of the last remaining Northrop N-9M flying wing at the Chino Air Show in 2014. The plane crashed April 22, 2019 in the exercise yard of a state prison in Norco, California.

NORCO, California - Federal investigators today examined the site of a fatal crash involving an experimental twin-engine airplane on the grounds of a prison in Norco, but details regarding what might have happened will not be released for at least a week.

National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Keith Holloway confirmed to City News Service that the crash site at the California Rehabilitation Center on Fifth Street was inspected and that investigators would return to the location Wednesday and possibly Thursday.

An NTSB preliminary accident report, which usually provides a narrative of what events immediately preceded a crash without specifying a cause, would likely be issued early next week, Holloway said.

A final report could be a year or more from completion.   

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Terri Hardy told City News Service that prison officials were cooperating and accommodating NTSB investigators in every way possible.   

The pilot killed in the crash was identified by the Riverside County Coroner's Office as a 51-year-old man, but his name and other information were withheld pending notification of relatives.

A spokesman for the Planes of Fame Museum at Chino Municipal Airport, where the Northrop N9M was based, told City News Service that any type of charity drive for the aviator's family would be announced via the museum's Facebook page or website,

The crash was reported about 12:10 p.m. Monday within a portion of the prison yard under construction, according to the Riverside County Fire Department.

The pilot, the sole occupant of the aircraft, was killed on impact. No prison guards or inmates were injured.

The Northrop N9M is configured like a flying wing, with two push-propellers mounted behind the cockpit. According to Federal Aviation Administration records, the plane that was destroyed was the last one flying of the four originally built in the early 1940s.

The type was considered in aviation circles to be a "grandfather'' to the modern flying wings built by Northrop-Grumman, including the B-2 Stealth Bomber.

Witnesses said that the plane went into a spin before the crash.   

Correctional personnel and county firefighters contained the post-crash fire within 20 minutes, according to reports from the scene.   

Chino Airport, about 2.5 miles northwest of the prison, is home to a number of vintage and experimental aircraft.   

Online videos of the N9M show that it was flying for demonstration purposes over the last decade, following a lengthy restoration. 

The plane that went down had been slated to perform in the annual Planes of Fame Air Show, scheduled for May 4-5, according to the event website.

Original article ➤

NORCO, California (KABC) -- A historic small airplane crashed on the grounds of a state prison in Norco and disintegrated in flames on Monday, officials said. 

The Riverside County coroner's office was at the scene and confirmed the crash was fatal, though it could not immediately confirm who or how many people died. 

The FAA, however, said only the pilot was on board the plane. 

There were no indications that prisoners or anyone on the ground was injured. 

The Northrop N-9M Flying Wing crashed just after noon at the California Rehabilitation Center on Fifth Street in Norco. 

The aircraft was identified as a Flying Wing owned by the Planes of Fame Air Museum in nearby Chino. 

The museum's website says the plane was built in 1944 and is considered a forerunner of the modern B-2 stealth bomber. 

Northrop built four prototypes, but there was only one remaining, the museum said. The museum completed restoration of the aircraft in the 1990s and completed flight testing in 1996. 

Its specs say it was just over 17 feet long and could hit a top speed of 220 mph. 

"It was so unusual looking," said Susan Fracol, who witnessed the crash. "It was shaped like a stingray fish or it looked like a bat flying. It was just weird looking." 

The crash triggered a fire and firefighters responded to extinguish the flames. Very little was left of the plane on the ground after the fire was extinguished. 

Fracol recalls: "I saw a bright yellow plane. It made a left dip, a right dip, went forward and went nose first into the ground - and a huge fireball." 

She says one of her family members knows the pilot. He was also the mechanic and was preparing the aircraft for a May 4 airshow, she said. 

She says before the crash he sent a text message to friends that essentially said "Going flying, see you later for beers." 

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash. 

Story and video ➤

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Riverside, California

August 21, 2016:  On landing, nose gear collapsed. 

Date: 21-AUG-16
Time: 21:39:00Z
Regis#: N9MB
Aircraft Make: NORTHROP
Event Type: Incident
Highest Injury: None
Flight Phase: LANDING (LDG)
Damage: Minor
State: California


  1. This was one of the planes to see on my bucket list. I was able to see it one time at the Camarillo Airshow a couple of years ago. In addition to looking like a big yellow kite in flight, it had a really unusual sound from those pusher props. We lost a piece of history. I wonder if plans exist somewhere?
    Thanks you to all the folks at Planes of Fame who curate these flying pieces of history.

    Very sad the pilot lost his life. My condolences to his family and friends.

  2. We dropped by the Planes of Fame museum one hot summer day and by chance, got a tour by Steve Hinton of this very plane while in the maintenance shop with most of the external panels removed. Steve called it the worlds largest Kit plane. It had special Franklin engines that were very different from a standard Franklin. This was our first and only visit and the staff at Planes of Fame treated us like royalty. I can’t express my sorrow to see this occur. This is a must see museum and airshow if you ever get the chance. Planning to donate to pilots family.

  3. I just watched a video on Youtube about the YB-49 jet-powered flying wings stall characteristics and it said to never voluntarily stall the ship. General Cardenas shares his experience when his wing stalled and tumbled end over end. The only way he found to recover was to apply full power to one side which in turn would put the wing into a normal spin from which it then could be recovered. He stated he pulled out of the spin at 1,000' agl! RIP to the pilot and a huge loss for the historical aviation community.

  4. According to this video, there were a number of camera mounts on the aircraft. With luck, a video card might have survived, and may shed some light on the cause of the accident.