FOR decades, one of the highlights of summer in Dorset has been an opportunity to see the Red Arrows in flight.

The Royal Air Force’s aerobatic team has been a regular visitor to the coast, and has for the past decade been a vital part of Bournemouth Air Festival.

Fans learned this week that the Red Arrows would be back on August 30, 31 and September 1 this year, as part of their 54th display season and the RAF’s centenary year.

The team was formed in late 1964 and flew its first displays the following year.

It originally flew Folland Gnat aircraft, which were replaced by the current BAE Hawk T1s in 1979. Nine elite pilots fly in formation, with an alternative eight-aircraft display performed if any one of them is unavailable.

The team’s mission remains the same – to represent and showcase the skills and values of the RAF, as well as support British industry, help defence diplomacy and aid recruitment for the armed forces.

The Red Arrows made regular visits to Dorset over the years, performing over Weymouth, Swanage, Bournemouth and Poole.

They became an institution in Bournemouth – so much so that the Bournemouth Red Arrows Association was launched in 1994. Founded by a band of six Red Arrows supporters including the then-boss of Bournemouth Airport, the association has gone on to raise around £213,000 for charity.

The Arrows’ visits were so popular that there was consternation in years when they did not happen – for example, in 1997, when the intended sponsor pulled the plug on the display.

In 1999, the Arrows appeared over Poole as the RNLI celebrated its 175th anniversary.

And in 2008, the first Bournemouth Air Festival began with a flypast in which that year’s Red Arrows were accompanied by their former lead aircraft – a Folland Gnat restored at Bournemouth Airport.

The air festival was the scene of a tragedy in 2011, when Red Arrows pilot Flight Lieutenant Jon Egging crashed when returning to Bournemouth Airport after a display.

Local support in his memory has helped the Jon Egging Trust raise money for good work with young people ever since. And a memorial on Bournemouth’s East Cliff stands as a permanent tribute to the strength of the town’s links with the RAF’s aerobatic crews.

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