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NTSB Releases Initial Findings in Crash of Northrop N-9M Flying Wing

The restored Northrop N-9M in flight in 2013 (CindyN)
The restored Northrop N-9M in flight in 2013 (CindyN)

The NTSB has released its preliminary report on the crash of the Northrop N-9M flying wing back on April 22 that killed pilot David Vopat. Witnesses reported the aircraft did a “barrel roll,” then flew into the ground. The NTSB does not indicate if the roll was intentional or the result of something causing an uncontrolled roll.

On April 22, 2019, about 1210 Pacific daylight time, a Northrop N9M airplane, N9MB, was destroyed when it impacted terrain near Norco, California.....

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.

Controllability of the aircraft was never great to begin with, and it seems questionable that an experienced pilot would have tried such a maneuver with so little altitude to spare. There is no word when the NTSB will release its final report, but these investigations can take a year or more.


The N-9M was a 1/3 scale flying testbed for the Northrop XB-35 and YB-35 flying wing bombers. Northrop built four, and the first was lost in a test crash in 1943 that killed the pilot. With the cancellation of the B-35 program, two other flying N-9 prototypes were scrapped but the third was put on display before a restoration program was begun in 1982. With the crash of the N-9M, the last trace of Northrop’s flying wing program was lost. However, Jack Northrop’s vision, at least, remains flying with the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit bomber.

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