Sean Cunningham

Flt Lt Cunningham Dreamed Of Becoming An RAF Jet Pilot

The Iraq veteran had dreamed of becoming an RAF Jet Pilot...

Sean Cunningham

To take to the skies with the elite Red Arrows aerobatic display is a dream for a many and an achievement for just a few.

Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham was one of those highly skilled and dedicated pilots selected to promote the best of British...

Who was Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham?

Flt Lt Cunningham moved to the UK from Johannesburg in 1986, aged nine and attended the Ernesford Grange School in Coventry.

At just 17 he was showing promise as a pilot already holding a private pilot licence.

He graduated with a degree in electrical and electronic engineering from Nottingham Trent University.

Later, Sean completed his Elementary Flying Training as a member of East Midlands University Air Squadron.

Then after joining the RAF in 2000, he was based with 617 "The Dambusters" Squadron at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland.

Over the next three years, Flt Lt Cunningham was involved in close air support missions for coalition ground forces in Iraq.

It wasn’t till a decade after joining the RAF that he began his career with the Red Arrows.

Red Arrows Hawk TMk1 XX177 at RAF Scampton, the plane involved in the death of RAF Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham
Red Arrows Hawk TMk1 XX177 at RAF Scampton, the plane involved in the death of RAF Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham

Lincolnshire Airbase Incident

In November of 2011, Flt Lt Cunningham was killed when his ejector seat initiated during the pre-flight checks of his stationary Hawk XX177 jet at the RAF aerobatics team’s base.

The incident caused him to be thrown 300ft into the air before falling to the ground, he died aged just 35.

Ejector seat manufacturer Martin-Baker Aircraft Ltd has now admitted breaching health and safety law in Crown Court.

Tributes After His Death

In a tribute following his death, his father Jim, mother Monika and sister Nicolette said: "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."

The then 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 at the time:

"His constant smile, energy, and joie de vivre were 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."