RAF grounds Spitfire fleet after death of pilot in Battle of Britain air display

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The RAF has grounded a fleet of Spitfire planes after the death of a pilot over the weekend, raising the prospect of the legendary aircraft being absent from the 80th anniversary of the D-day landings next month.

Sqn Ldr Mark Long – a Typhoon pilot based at RAF Coningsby – was killed in a crash while flying a Spitfire belonging to the Battle of Britain Memorial Fleet as part of a memorial event.

He had been a pilot with the BBMF for the last four years and had been due to take over the event next year. “Following the tragic accident at RAF Coningsby, and while the formal investigation is ongoing, the RAF has instigated a temporary pause in flying for the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight,” an RAF spokesperson said.

The air force announcement raises questions about the legendary single-seat fighter aircraft’s participation in the D-day celebrations. They were due to take part in a national commemorative event in Portsmouth on 5 June to mark 80 years since Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy in northern France, turning the tide of the second world war away from Nazi Germany.

It is not known when the RAF’s investigation will be complete or when a decision will be made on whether the vintage planes will fly again.

King Charles, Queen Camilla and the Prince of Wales will join world leaders – including Joe Biden, the US president, Emmanual Macron, the French president, and Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor – in Normandy for the memorial celebrations.

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The BBMF is a collection of wartime fighter and bomber aircraft that take part in air shows and memorial displays. A few dozen airworthy Spitfires remain, including six based at RAF Coningsby.

Paying tribute to Long, Gp Capt Robbie Lees, commander of the Display Air Wing, said on Sunday: “It is with great sorrow that I must confirm the death of Sqn Ldr Mark Long.

“Mark was a Typhoon pilot here at RAF Coningsby and for the last four years he has been a pilot with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. A great friend, colleague, and a passionate, professional aviator, he will be sorely missed by all who knew him.”

“An investigation into the cause of this tragic event has now begun.”

The Prince and Princess of Wales led tributes to Long, writing on social media: “Our thoughts … are with the pilot’s loved ones, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, and the wider RAF family. W & C.”

Source: theguardian.com

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