The twin-engine historic airplane that crashed into a Norco prison yard went into a “barrel roll” just prior to going down, causing pieces of the plane to sheer away, according to a report released Thursday by federal investigators.

The National Transportation Safety Board published its preliminary findings on the April 22 accident, but offered no conclusions regarding why it happened. A fuller analysis expected to be published in about a year.

David Michael Vopat, 51, of Chino was at the controls of the Northrop N9M– configured in the shape of a flying wing, with two push-propellers mounted aft of the cockpit — that crashed about 12:10 p.m. in a portion of the California Rehabilitation Center compound undergoing construction.

The aircraft went down in open space. No one at the prison was injured.

Vopat, an airline transport pilot and flight instructor certified to fly a range of historic and modern aircraft, departed nearby Chino Municipal Airport about six minutes before the accident, according to the NTSB.

“Multiple witnesses located near the accident site reported observing the airplane flying on a northeastern heading, at low altitude, when it performed a barrel roll,” the report states. “Several witnesses said that after the maneuver, the airplane ‘wobbled from side to side’ before the canopy separated. Shortly after, the airplane entered a steep right turn and descended into the ground in a nose-low attitude.”

Vopat died on impact.

A small post-crash fire was quickly doused by correctional personnel and Riverside County firefighters.

The NTSB said the wreckage was spread over about 500 feet, and all recoverable pieces of the plane were collected for analysis.

The N9M was owned by the Planes of Fame Air Museum at Chino, and according to FAA records, the aircraft was the last one flying of the four originally built in the early 1940s.

The type was considered in aviation circles to be a “grandfather” to the modern flying wings later built by Northrop-Grumman, including the B-2 Stealth Bomber.

According to online documentaries about the Planes of Fame N9M, it had undergone extensive restoration and was only used for periodic demonstration flights.

The museum is home to a number of vintage and experimental aircraft.

Vopat, who had received and passed an FAA-required medical exam in March, was reportedly flying the ill-fated plane as part of a rehearsal for the annual “Planes of Fame Air Show,” scheduled this weekend at Chino Airport.

Officials have planned a brief ceremony to recognize the aviator’s loss.

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