The last remaining Northrop N-9M, the so-called flying wing, has crashed in California, claiming the life of the pilot.
The aircraft, registered N9MB, operated by the Planes of Fame Air Museum based in Chino, crashed shortly after takeoff from Chino Airport into the grounds of a prison rehabilitation facility in Norco.
People on the ground escaped injury.
According to planesoffame.org the aircraft was built in 1944 as the fourth and final in a series of 1/3 scale test models for the Northrop XB-35 flying wing bombers. Each of the N9Ms was painted in a different colour scheme.
The primary mission of the N9Ms was to provide flight test information from which the manoeuvrability, 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.
The final configuration of the N9MB 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.
The N9MB was obtained from the U. S. Air Force by Ed Maloney of Planes of Fame Air Museum in the 1950s. Restoration was begun by Museum staff in 1981 and was completed 13 years later. It was painted in its original yellow-over-blue scheme. Flight testing was completed in 1996.
- The aircraft was one of four prototypes built by Northrop, but the only surviving one left.
- This aircraft was 75 years old in 2019 and is the grandfather of today’s B-2 Stealth Bomber.
- The N9MB was also the first aircraft to utilise a fully hydraulic flight control system with airspeed-sensitive feedback.
The National Transport Safety Board is investigating the circumstances behind the crash.
The local ABC Channel quoted eyewitness Susan Fracol: “It was so unusual looking. 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.”
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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.