Buoyed by its success in selling two modified regional airliners to the UK Ministry of Defence for use in Afghanistan, BAE Systems Regional Aircraft has revealed plans also to offer a tactical air-to-air refuelling derivative of the BAe 146/Avro RJ.
Outlined at the DSEi show in London on 10 September, the suggested adaptation would equip the four-engined type with single or twin fuselage-mounted hose drum units, to support drogue-equipped receivers during operational or training sorties. Alternatively, companyproduced artwork suggests, a lightweight boom could also be installed for tanker applications.
First work in support of the concept was performed by BAE in 2009, when it performed a proximity trial also involving a Royal Air Force Hawk T1 trainer.
BAE believes a tanker-equipped aircraft would be capable of delivering fuel at flight speeds of 120-300kt (220-560km/h), enabling it to support types ranging from utility helicopters and tiltrotors to combat types such as the Eurofighter Typhoon. Up to 7t of fuel could be transferred from the type's standard load, with this to rise to around 18t if auxiliary tanks were added, the company says.
BAE Systems Regional Aircraft
"It has the ideal configuration, with a high-wing and T-tail," says Mark Taylor, business development engineer for BAE Systems Regional Aircraft, who adds that the type's 140in fuselage diameter also is only 4in less than that of a Boeing KC-135.
"There is a place for a tactical air tanker," claims Taylor. "It can be justified on training requirements and for the routine movement of aircraft: you don't need to 'punch the sky' with a $100 million aircraft to do dry-contact training."
The RAF in February 2013 took delivery of two modified BAe 146 C3 transports, with the ex-TNT Airways -200QC aircraft typically being flown carrying up to 54 troops and around 3t of baggage. Both examples are now operational, with one recently having completed repairs in the UK after suffering significant airframe surface damage during a freak hailstorm that hit Afghanistan's Kandahar airfield earlier this year.
"People are all too ready to say that the [BAe 146] aircraft is in its final phases, but we are going to keep finding new things to do with it," says Taylor, who adds that two other air forces have shown interest in the UK's military transport adaptation. Another possible future application for the type could be in performing maritime surveillance tasks, he suggests.