UPDATED: Last Northrop N9M Crashes Near Chino


Image: Planes of Fame Museum

The Planes of Fame Northrop N9M crashed shortly after takeoff from the Chino, California, airport on Monday, killing the pilot. This N9M, the last remaining flying-wing, third-scale prototype used to develop the B-35, was being flown in preparation for the upcoming Chino Air Show. Local authorities have confirmed that the sole occupant of the aircraft was killed. Photos on social media depict the crash site adjacent to a state prison in Norco; the N9M appears to have suffered a comprehensive post-crash fire.

Update: The pilot has been identified as David Vopat, 51, of Chino. ATP-rated Vopat was a volunteer at the Planes of Fame Museum. The museum says the N9M was being prepared to fly in the upcoming Chino Air Show, and has published a tribute to Vopat on its website.

This particular N9M was restored by the Planes of Fame Museum starting in 1981, and completed its test flying in 1996. It was one of four third-scale prototypes built by Northrop in the 1940s to test design concepts that would eventually yield the B-35 flying-wing bomber. The B-2 Spirit bomber also traces its lineage to the N9M. Powered by two 300-HP Franklin eight-cylinder engines buried in the wing, the N9M had twin pusher props and advanced flying-wing features like leading-edge slots.

According to the Planes of Fame website, “The primary mission of the N9Ms was to provide flight test information from which the maneuverability, controllability and performance of the XB-35 could be predicted. It was flown at Muroc Army Airfield (later Edwards Air Force Base) by well-known pilots including Robert Cardenas, Russ Schleeh, John Myers, and Bob Hoover.”