BAE Systems are proposing a new role for its venerable BAe 146/Avro RJ family of regional airliners.
The rugged four-engined machine, which was first introduced into airline service 30 years ago, was popular with airlines who appreciated its hot and high performance and the quietness of its four engines. But while large numbers remain in revenue operation, the type is being phased out in favor of more economical twin-engined types, leaving surplus aircraft with plenty of hours left on the clock.
BAE Systems is eager to find a use for these machines and after some success with the U.K. Royal Air Force, converting a pair of ex-TNT Airways cargo aircraft into urgently needed passenger and freight haulers for use in Afghanistan, the company believes it has now found a new role for the aircraft as a tactical aerial refueling tanker.
BAE has already completed proximity trials with another 146 as well as a BAe Hawk jet trainer, with conditions behind the aircraft apparently benign thanks to the ability to modulate the power between the inboard and outboard engines.
BAE believes the aircraft is ideal for potentially tanking rotary-wing aircraft, thanks to its low-speed handling and perhaps in the future, UAVs. But refueling training may also be a good prospect. The company argues why countries should fly their new $100 million dollar tankers to provide a target for receiver aircraft to “dry prod” the trailing hose, and not take any fuel. The company claims that just 10% of training “prods” actually results in the transfer of fuel, and so the 146 could provide a useful, low-cost recurrent training aid for such missions.
The company has also already achieved significant success in the aerial firefighting mission with 10 146s and Avro RJs currently in use or under conversion with firefighter operators, Minden, Air Spray, Tronos/Neptune and Conair Aviation. Of all the conversions, the Conair one is perhaps the most complex involving the fitment of a large external fuel tank around the mid-fuselage. The first Conair conversion took to the air on August 21.