BAE Systems Regional Aircraft is proposing an air-to-air refueling (A2R) version of the BAE146/Avro RJ regional jet airliner. The business previously proposed and engineered a firefighting tanker version, 12 of which are now in service. It also proposed a military convertible version, which has been introduced by the UK Royal Air Force. These aircraft were all conversions of used passenger aircraft, which are readily available at $2- to $5 million each from airlines and leasing companies, including Falco Regional Aircraft, which bought the large BAE portfolio of 146s and RJs a few years ago.
Mark Taylor, business director of engineering, said that the A2R version would be a cost-effective option for “air forces that need this capability but are having to face the financial realities of defense cutbacks.” He noted that many A2R hook-ups that air arms conduct are “dry,” or for training purposes. A 146/RJ conversion “could provide realistic training at a fraction of the cost of current refueling aircraft,” he added.
Proximity flight trials using a BAe146-200 trailed by a BAE Hawk jet trainer and an Avro RJ confirmed that the aerodynamic environment behind the four-engine jet is benign. The company said that the 146/RJ might be particularly suitable as a tanker for tiltrotor aircraft, “which can experience additional challenges when in the slipstream of some other tanker aircraft,” a reference to the KC-10, sources told AIN. The 146/RJ series has good low-speed handling qualities, making it particularly suitable for refueling helicopters, the company added.
The standard tanks in the 146/RJ series give up to seven tonnes of fuel available for transfer. Additional tanks mounted in the fuselage would provide approximately another 10 metric tons. A hose-and-drum unit with single or dual hoses would dispense the fuel from the rear fuselage.
The 146/RJ fleet average cycle time is around 30,000 cycles. A life-extension program is available to increase this to 60,000 cycles. This would give many years of useful service, especially at the lower utilization levels typically flown by military operators, the company said.