The UK Royal Air Force is on track to field two converted BAe 146-200QC transports by March 2013, with both aircraft now in work at Hawker Beechcraft Services' Broughton site in north Wales.

Acquired from TNT Airways, the quick change passenger/freighter aircraft have been painted in RAF colours and transferred from Belgium under an urgent operational requirement (UOR) deal for use in Afghanistan. BAE Systems Regional Aircraft was awarded a contract worth £15.5 million ($24.3 million) to prepare them for military use, and has subcontracted the conversion work to Hawker Beechcraft.

 BAe 146 for RAF - BAE Regional Aircraft

Richard Poeser/BAE Regional Aircraft

TNT Airways was the previous operator of the passenger/freighter type

"Among the military equipment to be fitted will be defensive aids systems to enable these UOR aircraft to be protected to appropriate levels, at least equivalent to other UK aircraft operating in Afghanistan," BAE says.

Each of the adapted 146M aircraft will be capable of carrying fewer than the type's standard 96 passengers, due to the hot temperature and high-altitude environment encountered in Afghanistan, and due to the volume of equipment carried by combat personnel. Equipped with a large freight door, the baseline QC can alternatively be used to carry up to 10,600kg (23,300lb) on its cargo deck.

Introducing the BAe 146s will partially cover for the retirement from service of the RAF's last Lockheed Martin C-130K tactical transports by December 2012. Airbus Military's A400M is the long-term replacement for the latter type, with the UK due to take delivery of its first of 22 examples in 2014.

BAE says it is promoting military conversions of the 146 and Avro RJ to other air forces "to complement existing fleets of tactical airlifters such as C-130 Hercules, by taking on a wide variety of non-tactical air transport roles, thereby prolonging the fatigue life on ageing tactical assets".

Source: Flight International