A Red Arrows pilot killed after being ejected from his aircraft had dreamed of flying RAF fast jets since childhood, his family said.
Iraq War veteran Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham, 34, died in the incident on the runway at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, UK.
The RAF has suspended all non-essential flying on all aircraft with ejector seats of the type linked to the tragedy.
The flight lieutenant’s death, just ten weeks after that of a fellow Red Arrows ace at an air show in Bournemouth, left the world-famous aerobatics display team reeling again.
He was thought to have been taxiing on the runway when his Hawk T1 jet’s ejector seat mysteriously activated.
The see-through roof canopy is meant to fly off moments before and shatter by an explosive cord embedded in it.
But it too is feared to have malfunctioned, meaning the pilot smashed into it as he and the seat were hurled out.
People living near RAF Scampton, the home base of the Red Arrows, told how the sickening impact just after 11am sounded like an explosion.
Chris Boatman said: “My children and I heard a massive bang that echoed across from the runway to our house. A short time later the air ambulance went over.”
The critically-hurt pilot, who joined the RAF 11 years ago, was flown to Lincoln County Hospital five miles away but died of head injuries.
Group Captain Simon Blake, commandant of the RAF’s Central Flying School, confirmed as an urgent probe was launched: “The pilot was ejected whilst the aircraft was on the ground.”
He added: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the pilot’s family and friends.”