British RAF halts ejector seat flights after deaths
Published 10/11/2011 | 05:00
The British RAF has suspended all non-essential flying in aircraft fitted with ejector seats of the kind linked to the death of a Red Arrows pilot.
Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham (35) died after being ejected from his Hawk T1 while on the ground at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire on Tuesday.
The Iraq War veteran was the second Red Arrows pilot to be killed in less than three months after the death of Flight Lieutenant Jon Egging (33) in an air-show crash in Dorset in August.
The Royal Air Force announced it was halting all but vital flights in aircraft fitted with Martin Baker Mk 10 ejection seats while air accident officials investigate the latest tragedy.
The suspension, which is expected to last for days rather than weeks, affects the Tornado GR4 attack jet, the Tucano training turboprop and the Hawk.
RAF Tornados currently based in Afghanistan will continue flying missions to support British and other NATO forces, but some training flights will be cancelled.
Flt Lt Cunningham's family said he had dreamed of flying RAF fast jets since childhood and paid tribute to his "fun-loving nature". The pilot was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and moved to the UK in 1986 at the age of nine. He had the potential to become a professional footballer but decided to follow his dream of training as a fighter pilot.
Having joined the RAF in 2000, he flew Tornado GR4s during the Iraq War.
Flt Lt Cunningham joined the Red Arrows in 2010 and was this year promoted to the important "Red 5" position in the world-famous aerobatics team.
His father Jim, mother Monika and sister Nicolette said in a statement: "Sean loved his flying and we hope that his life will be an inspiration to all those who share his dreams."