A restored one-of-a-kind 1944 flying-wing airplane owned by the Planes of Fame Air Museum crashed April 22 during a flight to prepare for an upcoming airshow, killing the pilot.
The crash of the Northrop N–9MB on the grounds of a state prison near the Chino Airport, where the museum is located, occurred under unknown circumstances. News accounts reported that the pilot had stopped responding to calls from the Chino Airport control tower about seven minutes after takeoff from the airport. There were no serious injuries of persons on the ground reported at the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, where 3,400 inmates are housed.
The Planes of Fame Air Museum confirmed the identity of the pilot as David Michael Vopat, 51, who flew professionally as a commercial airline pilot and flight instructor. He was a "brilliant and passionate pilot," the museum said in a tribute posted on its website.
According to the Planes of Fame Air Museum, the pusher-prop-driven 6,818-pound maximum takeoff weight airplane with a 60-foot wingspan was one of four flying wings built in 1944 as one-third-scale prototypes intended to develop flight-test data for the Northrop XB–35 flying wing bomber.
The aircraft's final configuration "featured leading edge slots, flaps, elevons and split rudders. These were used on the XB–35, the YB–49, and many years later, with some modifications, on the B–2 Stealth Bomber,” notes a description of the aircraft on the museum’s website.
The airplane, the last of the four original prototypes, was restored over a 13-year period beginning in 1981 and flew for the first time after restoration on Sept. 11, 1994, “and had safely flown several hundred hours since then,” the museum said.