BAE SYSTEMS Regional Aircraft unveiled a proposal on September 11 for a cost-effective air-to-air refuelling (A2R) variant of the BAe 146/Avro RJ regional jetliner. Speaking at the Defence Services Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition at the ExCel centre in London, Mark Taylor, Business Director Engineering for BAE Systems Regional Aircraft stated: “We believe that the A2R version of the BAe 146/Avro RJ is a sound business proposition for military planners and air forces that need this capability but who are having to face the financial realities of defence budget cutbacks.
“Whether to provide A2R tactical tanker capability or, in particular, to provide realistic A2R training instead of using expensive existing assets, the acquisition of a fleet of these aircraft can be accomplished at a fraction of the cost of current refuelling aircraft, whilst delivering excellent performance,” said Taylor.
BAE Systems Regional Aircraft believes the design of the aircraft with its high wing and T-tail configuration is ideal for A2R operations. Falko has already carried out proximity flight trials using a BAe 146-200, Avro RJ85 and Hawk jet trainer. This was successfully completed and confirmed that the aerodynamic environment behind the quad jet is benign and the aircraft therefore has considerable potential as an A2R aircraft for refuelling a range of aircraft types and sizes.
It is considered that the BAe 146/Avro RJ might be particularly suitable as a tanker for tilt-rotor aircraft, which can experience additional challenges when in the slipstream of some other tanker aircraft. The business has carried out design concepts for a hose and drogue unit (HDU)-based system and these included the option for additional fuel tanks within the cabin.
The standard tankage on the BAe 146/Avro RJ gives up to approximately 15,432lbs (7,000kg) of fuel available for transfer – sufficient for A2R training at the lowest capital cost. Additional auxiliary fuel tanks in the cabin would provide up to about 39,682lbs (18,000kg) of fuel available for transfer, making the aircraft a useful tactical refuelling airtanker.
The wide airspeed range of the aircraft gives flexibility in refuelling the variety of fixed and rotary wing aircraft currently in service. In this role the aircraft can fly up to 300kts (555km/h) indicated air speed/M.072 at 31,000ft/9,450m (BAe 146) or 35,000ft/10,670m (Avro RJ).
BAE Regional Aircraft says that it is well equipped to undertake mission system development and provide operational support. The business has most recently designed and delivered two converted BAe 146 C3 passenger/freighter transports to the RAF. It is also working with QinetiQ for the conversion of an Avro RJ70 for the Empire Test Pilots School, is responsible for the BAe 146 Atmospheric Research Aircraft which involves two/three major scientific role changes each year, and is working with a number of Airtanker (aerial firefighter) operators in North America on multiple aircraft conversions.
There is a plentiful supply of pre-owned BAe 146 and Avro RJs on the market at very low prices of between US$ 1-6 million, depending on age, configuration and condition, with a fleet average flight cycle time of around 30,000 cycles. In addition, there is a Life Extension Programme available for both aircraft types that can increase this to 60,000 cycles, giving the aircraft many years of useful service, especially at the lower utilisation levels typically flown by military and special role operators.
Lead times are short so service availability can be relatively quick and BAE Systems Regional Aircraft estimates that from go ahead it will take some 18 months to produce a basic specification centreline HDU equipped aircraft available for flight trials. The standard fit on an Avro RJ85 would include auxiliary fuel tanks, a centreline HDU, lights, cameras and control systems on the flight deck and military communications.
Pricing for a completed aircraft will be very competitive. As an example, a late model RJ85 will be around $5 million for a basic aircraft with perhaps £5-10 million of conversion costs depending on final specification. Optional fits on the aircraft could include a dual HDU installation, defensive aids (missile protection, flight deck armour and fuel tank inerting) and unpaved runway operations.