A new-look firefighting adaptation of the BAe 146-/Avro RJ-series of regional airliners has been flown for the first time for commercial operator Conair Aviation, and the system is expected to enter detailed testing in Canada later this year.
BAE Systems Regional Aircraft
Now sporting an external conformal tank beneath its fuselage, which is capable of containing 3,000 USgal of water or retardant, the modified air tanker completed its milestone flight on 21 August, says Mark Taylor, business development engineer for BAE Systems Regional Aircraft. Aerodynamic testing and handling checks are continuing, he says, and "the aircraft is performing as expected".
BAE test pilots are supporting the current test campaign, which is likely to be expanded to include drop pattern performance assessment work "within the next month", Taylor says.
Four operators have so far signed up for a combined 12 firefighting examples of the BAe 146/Avro RJ, with these also including Air Spray Aviation Services, Minden Air and Tronos. However, with several further options already in discussion, the number of such aircraft is expected to increase to "around 20 in a couple of years", Taylor believes. Such aircraft could be used to fight fires in regions including North America, Latin America, Europe and Australia, he adds.
BAE plans to install airframe stress gauges across the modified fleet, in order to conduct exact measurements on the effects of dropping a complete load of water/retardant in less than 1s. Early analysis suggests that the task places up to seven times the normal stress on the aircraft than during routine airline operations, Taylor says.