It is with sadness that the MOD must confirm the death of Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham of the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team (the Red Arrows). Flight Lieutenant Cunningham was killed when he was ejected from his Hawk T1 aircraft on the morning of Tuesday 8 November 2011. A full Service Inquiry will investigate the circumstances surrounding the incident.
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 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.”
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”.