This WWII-era flying wing crashed in a California prison yard after doing a 'barrel roll,' according to the NTSB

news
The last remaining Northrop N-9M flying wing at the Chino Air Show in 2014. (Wikimedia Commons/Tim Felce)

The historic Northrop N-9M flying wing that crashed in a Norco, California prison yard in late April apparently executed a "barrel roll" before plummeting to the ground, according to the National Transportation Safety Board's preliminary report.


One of four flying wings originally built in 1944 as test aircraft in support of the XB-35 and YB-35 experimental bombers developed for the U.S. Army Air Forces, the ultra-rare N-9M crashed at the California Rehabilitation Center on April 22nd, killing pilot David Vopat.

Moments before the crash, multiple witnesses "reported observing the airplane flying on a north eastern heading at a low altitude when it performed a 'barrel roll,'" according to the NTSB report.

"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."

The loss of Vopat and the N-9M is both heartbreaking and tragically unsurprising given the flying wing's inherent stability problems. But The War Zone's Tyler Rogoway smartly observes, there remains some uncertainty as to whether the "maneuver" observed by ground-based bystanders was actually an intentional barrel roll or evidence of another problem:

I have never heard of the N-9M, an antique that was built in the 1940s, doing barrel rolls at air shows, although that is based on seeing the performance myself and watching videos of it in the past. Such a maneuver in that airframe sounds excessively risky, especially if it hadn't been a staple maneuver that had been repeated many times over at altitude and cleared for air show routines in the past. The low altitude environment that the aircraft was flying in the time of the crash would have offered nearly zero chance of a safe recovery after a departure from controlled flight.

What we don't know for certain at this time is if the maneuver was intentional or if some unknown circumstance caused a maneuver similar to a barrel roll before the aircraft departed completely from controlled flight.

Either way, the vintage N-9M's destruction is a tragedy itself: the spiritual ancestor of the B-2 Spirit, it was the last of its kind.

SEE ALSO: World War II-Era Plane Crash-Lands Onto California Highway

WATCH NEXT: The Colony Glacier Crash Recovery

Guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem (DDG 63) Sailors participate in a memorial for the shipÕs namesake, Robert D. Stethem. Navy diver, Steelworker 2nd Class Robert Stethem, who was returning from an assignment in the Middle East, when he was taken hostage aboard TWA 847 commercial airliner. The flight was hijacked by terrorists, and Stethem was shot to death after being tortured by the terrorists on June 15, 1985. (U.S. Navy photo by Ensign Danny Ewing Jr.)

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek police have arrested a 65-year-old Lebanese man suspected of involvement in the 1985 hijacking of a Trans World Airlines (TWA) plane in which a U.S. navy diver was killed.

A Greek police official said on Saturday the suspect had disembarked from a cruise ship on the island of Mykonos on Thursday and that his name came up as being wanted by German authorities.

Read More Show Less

The last time the world saw Marine veteran Austin Tice, he had been taken prisoner by armed men. It was unclear whether his captors were jihadists or allies of Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad who were disguised as Islamic radicals.

Blindfolded and nearly out of breath, Tice spoke in Arabic before breaking into English:"Oh Jesus. Oh Jesus."

That was from a video posted on YouTube on Sept. 26, 2012, several weeks after Tice went missing near Damascus, Syria, while working as a freelance journalist for McClatchy and the Washington Post.

Now that Tice has been held in captivity for more than seven years, reporters who have regular access to President Donald Trump need to start asking him how he is going to bring Tice home.

Read More Show Less

SAN DIEGO — John Timothy Earnest didn't hide his smirks as he sat in a San Diego courtroom on Thursday, watching surveillance video of Lori Gilbert-Kaye being shot down inside the lobby of a Poway synagogue.

Earnest also smiled as a synagogue congregant testified about running toward the shooter, screaming "I'm going to kill you!" and seeing the gunman "with a look of astonishment or fear" turn and run.

Earnest, 20, is facing one count of murder and three counts of attempted murder in the shootings at Chabad of Poway on April 27. He also faces an arson charge related to an Escondido mosque fire in March, when several people who were sleeping inside escaped unharmed.

Read More Show Less

Sometimes a joke just doesn't work.

For example, the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service tweeted and subsequently deleted a Gilbert Gottfried-esque misfire about the "Storm Area 51" movement.

On Friday DVIDSHUB tweeted a picture of a B-2 bomber on the flight line with a formation of airmen in front of it along with the caption: "The last thing #Millenials will see if they attempt the #area51raid today."

Read More Show Less

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey is ready to act on its southern border with Syria, President Tayyip Erdogan said, after warning that it could take unilateral steps if the U.S. does not establish a "safe zone" in northeast Syria this month.

"Our preparations along our borders are complete," Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul on Saturday before departing to attend a U.N. General Assembly meeting.

Read More Show Less