Tributes are pouring in for the Red Arrows pilot who was killed after his ejector seat was activated on the ground, Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham.
Cunningham (34), who flew Red 5, was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and moved to the UK in 1986. One of Sean’s dreams was to become a fast jet pilot in the Royal Air Force, so while studying at Ernesford Grange School in Coventry he gualified for his Private Pilot Licence, aged 17. He studied Electrical & Electronic Engineering at Nottingham Trent University and then gained his Elementary Flying Training as a member of East Midlands University Air Squadron.
In 2000, Cunningham joined the RAF as a Flight Lieutenant, and was selected for Fast Jet Training. He was then posted to the Tornado GR4 aircraft as part of the 617 ‘The Dambusters’ Squadron at Royal Air Force Lossiemouth in Scotland. While in Lossiemouth, he did various tours of Iraq as a part of Operation TELIC, flying close air support missions.
He was selected to become part of the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team (the Red Arrows) 2010.
“A much-loved son and brother”
His 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.”
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 Rt Hon Phillip Hammond MP, Secretary of State for Defence 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 honour 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.”
Prime Minister David Cameron remembered Sean Cunningham on November 9’s Question Time. He said: “I’m sure the hearts of everyone goes out to the family of the pilot who was killed in this terrible accident. It comes on top of a terrible second accident that happened in the Red Arrows, so this has obviously been a very tragic time for something the whole country reveres and loves. We must get to the bottom of what happened.”