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PORTERVILLE — A pilot died Monday when a single-engine plane crashed and burned near Porterville Municipal Airport, authorities said.

The plane had taken off from the airport and went down at around 2:30 p.m. in a field near one end of the runway, authorities said.

The aircraft was incinerated.

The FAA said the pilot was trying to return to the airport when the crash occurred.

Pilot Identified

The 144th Fighter Wing said Tuesday that Lt. Col. Billy ‘Taz’ Sullivan was killed in the crash.

Sullivan, a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, was off-duty and flying his personal plane.

He recently became operations director for the 194th Fighter Squadron.

“The 144th Fighter Wing family is deeply saddened at the sudden loss of one of our own,” the 144th Fighter Wing said on  Facebook. “On June 7, Lt Col Billy “Taz” Sullivan suffered a fatal accident while flying his personal aircraft.

“Billy was a force multiplier for all who knew him and was truly larger than life. His death will impact many people because he had a mission to help and connect with everyone he knew. He had a thirst for life and wanted to share his love of aviation and passion for adventure with anyone and everyone he encountered.

 “Our condolences and sympathies go out to his wife, Diane, and his family and friends.”

About the Plane

A Van’s RV-6 kit plane. (Wikipedia)

The National Transportation Safety Board, which will investigate, identified the aircraft as a Vans RV6A.

The RV6A is a two-seat, single-engine, low-wing homebuilt airplane sold in kit form by Van’s Aircraft.

More than 2,500 kits have been completed and flown.

The plane, which has a maximum speed of 210 mph, was used as a military trainer by the Nigerian Air Force and earned the nickname “Air Beetle.”

(Associated Press contributed to this article.)

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