RAF Aerobatic Team Pilot Killed When Ejected From Aircraft While On The Ground


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RAF Aerobatic Team Pilot Killed When Ejected From Aircraft While On The Ground

By Shane Nolan
November 9, 2011 - Capt Blake of the Royal Air Force has confirmed that on Tuesday there was a ground incident involving one of the RAF Aerobatic Team BAE Hawk T1 aircraft that resulted in the death of a pilot, Lieutenant Sean Cunningham.

The pilot was accidentally ejected from the aircraft while the aircraft was on the ground. The accident happened at the Royal Air Force Station Scampton which is a Royal Air Force station situated north of Lincoln in England. 

The accident occurred at or about 11 AM local time. An air ambulance airlifted the pilot to Lincoln County Hospital where the pilots died from his injuries. The Military Aviation Authority has begun an investigation into the cause of the accident. Capt Blake said ?The investigation will determine the facts. It would be inappropriate to speculate on the cause of the incident until that inquiry is complete. 

This is the second accident this year for the RAF Aerobatic Team. On August 20, 2011, a RAF Aerobatic Team Hawk aircraft crashed near Bournemouth Airport following a display at the Bournemouth Air Festival. Flight Lieutenant Jon Egging, pilot of Red 4, was killed in the accident. 

Red 5 ? Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham, 34, was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, and moved to the UK in 1986 at the age of nine. Although a profession in football was a possibility, Sean followed his dream to become fast jet pilot in the Royal Air Force. Sean attended Ernesford Grange School in Coventry during which time he qualified for his Private Pilot Licence at the age of 17. He went on to read Electrical & Electronic Engineering at Nottingham Trent University and completed his Elementary Flying Training as a member of East Midlands University Air Squadron. 

Joining the Royal Air Force in 2000 Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham was selected for Fast Jet Training. On completion of his flying training, Sean was posted to the Tornado GR4 aircraft serving on 617 ?The Dambusters? Squadron at Royal Air Force Lossiemouth. During his three years on the Squadron, Sean completed several operational tours of Iraq as part of Operation TELIC, flying close air support missions for Coalition ground forces.


After completing exercises in America, Canada, Romania and France, Sean joined XV (R) Squadron as a Qualified Pilot and Tactics Instructor. Sean continued his instructional role when posted to the Weapon System Officer (WSO) Training Unit at 100 Squadron, Royal Air Force Leeming before being selected to fly for the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team (the Red Arrows) 2010. 

Flight Lieutenant Cunningham?s family, Father Jim, Mother Monika & Sister Nicolette said ?Sean was first and foremost a much-loved son and brother who will be dearly missed by all of his family, and his many good friends. Since his childhood Sean had dreamed of flying fast jets in the Royal Air Force; through his hard work and dedication he achieved that dream, and the pinnacle of his career was to fly in the Red Arrows.

"Sean loved his flying and we hope that his life will be an inspiration to all those who share his dreams. His fun-loving nature has never failed to put a smile on the faces of those who knew and loved him; this is how he will be remembered. We ask that the media please allow us the time and space required to come to terms with what has happened? 

The Rt Hon Phillip Hammond MP, Secretary of State for Defense said ?It was with great sadness that I heard of the death of Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham. He was clearly a gifted pilot who served his country with honor and distinction throughout his career in the Royal Air Force. As a Red Arrow, Flt Lt Cunningham was regarded as among the most talented aviators in the world. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends at this terrible time." 

Air Officer Commanding Number 22(Training) Group, Air Vice-Marshal Mike Lloyd said ?The Red Arrows personify the teamwork, professionalism and excellence that is common-place throughout the Royal Air Force and Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham demonstrated each of these values on a daily basis. His contribution to the Service as an aviator in the Tornado GR4 Force, as a Red Arrows Pilot and as an officer has been outstanding. Sean will be missed by all and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.? 

Group Captain Simon Blake, the Commandant of the RAF's Central Flying School, said ?Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham joined the team in October 2010 and flew for his first year as Red 3. This year, Sean had commenced training as Red 5 and was the senior member of the ?front 5? affectionately known as ?Enid?, and thus had the unofficial mantle of ?Uncle Enid?? a key position in mentoring and helping to train the new pilots to the team.

?His constant smile, energy, and joie de vivre was infectious and he will be sorely missed by his fellow pilots, the entire Red Arrows team and his many colleagues and friends in the wider Royal Air Force. Our heartfelt sorrow and sympathy go out to his family and all those whose lives he touched?. 

The Red Arrows, officially known as the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, is the aerobatics display team of the Royal Air Force based at RAF Scampton. The team was formed in late 1964 as an all-RAF team, replacing a number of unofficial teams that had been sponsored by RAF commands. In late 1979, they switched to the BAE Hawk trainer. The Red Arrows have performed over 4,000 displays worldwide in 53 countries. 

The BAE Systems Hawk is a British single-engine, advanced jet trainer aircraft. It first flew in 1974 as the Hawker Siddeley Hawk. The Hawk is used by the Royal Air Force, and other air forces, as either a trainer or a low-cost combat aircraft. The Hawk is still in production with over 900 Hawks sold to 18 customers around the world. 

The Hawk is a tandem two seat aircraft and has a low mounted cantilever monoplane wing and is powered by a non-augmented turbofan engine. The low-positioned one piece wing was designed to allow a wide landing gear track and to enable easier maintenance access. The wing is fitted with wide-span, double slotted, trailing-edge flaps for low-speed performance.


The Hawk was designed to be maneuverable and can reach Mach 0.88 in level flight and Mach 1.15 in a dive, thus allowing trainees to experience transonic flight before advancing to a supersonic trainer. Its airframe is very durable and strong, stressed for +9 g but the normal limit in RAF service is +7.5/-4 g.

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