The British Aerospace 146 (also BAe 146) is a regional airliner that was manufactured in the United Kingdom by British Aerospace, later part of BAE Systems. Production ran from 1983 until 2002. Manufacture of an improved version known as the Avro RJ began in 1992. A further-improved version with new engines, the Avro RJX, was announced in 1997, but only two prototypes and one production aircraft were built before production ceased in 2001. With 387 aircraft produced, the Avro RJ/BAe 146 is the most successful British civil jet programme.
The BAe 146/Avro RJ is a high-wing cantilever monoplane with a T-tail. It has four turbofan engines mounted on pylons underneath the wings, and has retractable tricycle landing gear. The aircraft has very quiet operation, and has been marketed under the name Whisperjet. It sees wide usage at small city-based airports. In its primary role it serves as a regional jet, short-haul airliner or regional airliner. The BAe 146/Avro RJ is in wide use among European airlines, such as Brussels Airlines, CityJet, Swiss International Air Lines and Lufthansa.
The BAe 146 comes in -100, -200 and -300 models. The equivalent Avro RJ versions are designated RJ70, RJ85, and RJ100. The freight-carrying version carries the designation "QT" (Quiet Trader), a convertible passenger-or-freight model is designated as "QC" (Quick Change). A "gravel kit" can be fitted to aircraft to enable operations from rough, unprepared airstrips.
|BAe 146 / Avro RJ|
|Buzz BAe 146-300|
|First flight||3 September 1981|
Swiss European Air Lines
|Number built||387 (Avro RJ: 166; BAe 146: 221)|
|Unit cost||146-200: £11,000,000 (1981)|
In August 1973, Hawker Siddeley launched a new 70 seat regional airliner project, the HS.146, to fill the gap between turboprop-powered airliners like the Hawker Siddeley HS.748 and the Fokker F.27 and small jet airliners like the BAC One-Eleven and Boeing 737. The chosen configuration had a high wing and a T-tail to give good short-field performance, while the aircraft was to be powered by four Avco Lycoming ALF 502s turbofan engines. The programme was initially launched with backing from the UK Government, who agreed to contribute 50% of the development costs in return for a share of the revenues from each aircraft sold. In October 1974, all work on the project was halted as a result of the world economic downturn resulting from the 1973 oil crisis.
Low-key development proceeded, however, and in 1978 British Aerospace, Hawker Siddeley's corporate successor, re-launched the project. British Aerospace marketed the aircraft as a quiet, low-consumption turbofan aircraft would be effective at replacing the previous generation of turboprop-powered feeder aircraft. The first order for the BAe 146 was placed by Líneas Aéreas Privadas Argentinas in June 1981. Prior to the first flight, British Aerospace had forecast that the smaller 146-100 would significantly outsell the 146-200 variant, however airlines had showed a great level of interest in the larger 146-200.
By 1981, a large assembly line had been completed as British Aerospace's Hatfield site, and the first completed aircraft took flight that year, quickly followed by two more prototypes. Initial flight results showed better than predicted take-off and climb performance. In 1982, British Aerospace stated that the sale of a total 250 aircraft was necessary for the venture to break even. The BAe 146 received its Certificate of Airworthiness on 8 February 1983. Upon its launch into service, it was hailed as being "the world's quietest jetliner".
Early production aircraft were built at Hatfield, which had originally been a de Havilland factory. The Avro RJ family of aircraft was assembled at the Avro International later BAE Systems Regional Aircraft Centre at Woodford Aerodrome in Greater Manchester, England. Production of various sections of the aircraft was carried out at different BAE plants. The rear fuselage section was manufactured at BAE Systems' former Avro site at Chadderton, near Oldham, Greater Manchester. The center fuselage section was manufactured at the Filton BAE site. The fin came from Brough and the engine pylons were made at Prestwick. The nose section was manufactured at Hatfield, where the assembly line for the early aircraft was located. Some manufacturing was subcontracted outside the UK; the wings were made by Textron in the United States and the tailplane and control surfaces were made by Saab-Scania in Sweden.
Due to the sales performance of the BAe 146, in early 1991 British Aerospace announced a development project to produce a new variant of the type, powered by two turbofan engines instead of four, that was offered to airlines as a regional jet aircraft. Dubbed the new regional aircraft (NRA), other proposed alterations from the BAe 146 included the adoption of a new enlarged wing and a lengthened fuselage.
In 1993, the upgraded Avro RJ series superseded the BAe 146. Changes include the replacement of the original Lycoming ALF 502 turbofan engines by higher-thrust Honeywell LF 507 turbofan engines, which were housed in redesigned nacelles. The Avro RJ series also featured a modernised cockpit with EFIS replacing the analogue ADI, HSI and engine instrumentation. An arrangement between British Aerospace and Khazanah Nasional would have opened an Avro RJ production line in Malaysia, however this deal collapsed in 1997.
In 2000, British Aerospace announced that it was to replace the Avro RJ series with a further improved Avro RJX series; plans to produce the Avro AJX were officially cancelled in November 2001. Production of the Avro RJ ended with the final four aircraft being delivered in late 2003; a total of 173 Avro RJ aircraft were delivered between 1993 and 2003.
British Aerospace promoted the BAe 146 to airlines as a "feederliner" and short-haul regional airliner. The airframe of the aircraft and many other key areas were designed to be as simple as possible. The engines lack thrust reversers due to their perceived reduced effectiveness in anticipated conditions, instead the BAe 146 features two large airbrakes below the tail rudder at the rear of the fuselage, which has the advantage of being usable during flight and allows for steep descent rates if required.
The aircraft proved to be useful on "high density" regional and short-haul routes. In economy class, the BAe 146 can either be configured in a standard five-abreast layout or a high-density 6-abreast layout, making it one of very few regional jets that can use a 6-abreast layout in economy class. Reportedly, the aircraft is profitable on most routes with only marginally more than half the seats occupied.
The BAe 146 is also renowned for its relatively quiet operation, a positive feature that appealed to those operators that wanted to provide services to noise-sensitive airports within cities. The aircraft is one of only a few types that can be used on flights to London City Airport, which has a unique steep approach and a short runway; for several years the BAe 146 was the only conventional aircraft capable of flying from London City Airport.
According to the BAe 146's chief designer, Bob Grigg, from the very start of the design process, making the aircraft as easy to maintain as possible and keeping operator's running costs as low as possible were considerably high priorities. Grigg highlighted factors such as design simplicity, using off-the-shelf components where possible, and the internal use of firm cost targets and continuous monitoring. British Aerospace also adopted a system of cost guarantees between component suppliers and the operators of the BAe 146 in order to enforce stringent requirements.
Drawing on experience from the Hawker Siddeley Trident and the Airbus A300, both the fuselage and wing were carefully designed for a reduced part count and complexity. A high-mounted wing was adopted with an uninterrupted top surface; the BAe 146's wing did not make use of leading edge extensions, which also enabled a simplified fixed tailplane. The undercarriage of the aircraft is toughened to resist damage and stabalisation is maximised by the placement of landing gear, of particular value when operating from rough airstrips.
The BAe 146 was the second aircraft, after Concorde, to use carbon brakes. The aircraft features a low amount of composite material, used in parts of the secondary structure only. Initial production aircraft featured a conventional cockpit and manual flight controls. At launch, the onboard auxiliary power unit (APU) consumed only half the fuel and only a third of the weight of contemporary models.
The BAe 146 is powered by four Avco Lycoming ALF 502 turbofan engines, which are fixed on pylons underneath the aircraft's high wing. The ALF 502 was derived from the Lycoming T55 turboshaft powerplant that powers the Chinook heavy transport helicopter. Notably, the ALF 502 had a very low level of operational noise, much lower than most other competing aircraft, this was achieved partly by the engine's high bypass ratio along with additional sound dampening layers built into the engine.
Early on, the decision to adopt four engines for a feeder airliner rather than two has been viewed as atypical to some commentators. Advantages of adopting the four engine configuration includes greater redundancy and superior takeoff performance from short runways and in hot and high conditions. Electrical power is primarily provided by generators located on each of the outboard engines. For ease of maintainability and reduced operator costs, the ALF 502 is of a modular design and makes minimum use of specialist tooling.
Multiple issues with the ALF 502 have been experienced. Internal electronics could overheat, triggering an automatic shutdown of an engine with no option of in-flight restart, and certain rare atmospheric conditions could cause a loss of engine thrust due to internal icing.Additionally, the BAe 146 experienced aerotoxic syndrome due to leakage of tricresyl phosphate (TCP) into its bleed air; this has been blamed on problems with leaking engine seals. Exposure to these toxic fumes is dangerous and a risk to personal health.
In May 1983, British airline Dan-Air became the first carrier to launch services using on British Aerospace's new 146; the first revenue-earning service was flown between London Gatwick Airport and Berne Airport. On 1 July 1984, the first of 20 BAe 146s ordered by Pacific Southwest Airlines was officially delivered. Air Wisconsin was another major US operator of the 146, replacing their fleet of turbo-prop Fokker F27 Friendships with the type. It was announced in January 1987 that the BAe 146 had been selected to launch the first jet services from London City Airport, it was chosen due to its unmatched flying characteristics to operate from so-called STOLports.
The 146 was introduced into Royal Air Force service in 1986 as a VIP transport; it was the first jet aircraft to be operated by 32 (The Royal) Squadron. According to Flight International, at least 25 executive aircraft have been produced for various customers, many of these had undergone conversions following airline operations.
The initial customer for the BAe RJ85 series was Crossair, who took delivery of their first aircraft on 23 April 1993.
Several major cargo operators have operated the type. As of 2012, the BAe 146 QT is the most numerous aircraft in TNT Airways's air freighter fleet. In 2012, it was announced that the RAF would acquire the BAe 146M as an interim transport aircraft between the retirement of the Lockheed C-130 Hercules and the introduction of the larger Airbus A400M Atlas.
First flight of the -100 occurred on 3 September 1981, with deliveries commencing in 1983. The launch customer in March 1983 was Dan-Air, soon followed by the RAF's Royal Flight. The -100 was the last of the 146 series designs to be developed into the Avro RJ standard with first deliveries of the Avro RJ70 in late 1993. The RJ70 differed from the 146-100 in having FADEC LF 507 engines and digital avionics. The RJ70 seats 70 passengers five abreast, 82 six abreast or 94 in high-density configuration. The Queen's Flight acquired a total of three 146s, all were fitted out with a luxurious bespoke interior. The aircraft are operated in a VIP configuration with a capacity of 19 passengers and 6 crew. The BAe 146-100QC is the convertible passenger/freight version and the BAe 146-100QT (Quiet Trader) is the freighter version.
The 146-200 features a 2.41 m (7 ft 11 in) fuselage extension and reduced cost per seat mile. The -200 first flew in August 1982 and entered service six months later. The RJ85, the first RJ development of the BAe 146 family, features an improved cabin and the more efficient LF 507 engines. Deliveries of the RJ85 began in April 1993. The RJ85 seats up to 112 passengers. The BAe 146-200QC is the convertible passenger/freight version and the BAe 146-200QT (Quiet Trader) is the freighter version.
Designers' initial proposals for the -300, the final development of the 146 product line, included a 3.2 m extension to the fuselage of the -200, more powerful engines and winglets. However, due to airlines requesting greater operating efficiencies rather than more capacity, the production 146-300 emerged as a 2.44 m stretch of the -200, without winglets or the proposed ALF 502R-7. Deliveries began in December 1988. The Avro version of the 146-300, the second such development of the 146 product line, became the RJ100. It shared the fuselage of the 146 version, but with interior, engine and avionics improvements. The most common configuration in the RJ100 seats 100 passengers. An RJ115 variant, the same physical size but with an increased MTOW and different emergency exits, was marketed but never entered production; it sat 116 as standard or up to a maximum of 128 in a high-density layout. A modified BAe 146-301 is used as a Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements (FAAM). The BAe 146-300QC is the convertible passenger/freight version and the BAe 146-300QT (Quiet Trader) is the freighter version.
Throughout the production life of the BAe 146, British Aerospace proposed a number of specialised military versions, including side- and rear-loading transports, an airborne tanker version, and a carrier onboard delivery version. Out of these proposals the BAe 146STA (Sideloading Tactical Airlifter), based on the BAe 146QT cargo aircraft and sharing the same cargo door on the left side of the rear fuselage, was produced. This military transport version has a refuelling probe protruding from the nose; a demonstrator, fitted with a dummy refuelling probe and an air-openable paratroop door was displayed at the 1989 Paris Air Show and carried out extensive demonstration tours, but no orders resulted.
BAE Systems announced the BAe 146M programme in 2009, designed to provide ex-civilian BAe 146-200 and -300 aircraft to military operators, available either in either passenger or freighter configurations. Upgrades and alterations made to the type include new glass cockpit avionics, additional fuel tanks, increased steep approach and unpaved runway operation capabilities, and being outfitted defensive aids, however a rear cargo door was not introduced. BAE has stated that the 146M is suitable for performing airlift, medical evacuation, paradrop, surveillance, or in-flight refuelling operations.
The RJX-70, RJX-85 and RJX-100 variants represented advanced versions of the Avro RJ Series. The RJX series used Honeywell AS977 turbofans for greater efficiency (15% less fuel-burn, 17% increased range), quieter performance and 20% lower maintenance costs. Bhutan carrier Drukair ordered two RJX-85s, while British European placed firm orders for 12 RJX-100s and 8 options. However, BAE Systems terminated the project in December 2001, having completed and flown only three aircraft—a prototype each of the RJX-85 and RJX-100, and a production RJX-100 for British European. BAE reached an agreement with Druk Air and British European in early 2002 in which the airlines agreed not to enforce their firm orders for the RJX. BAE explored the possibility of manufacturing 14 "hybrid" aircraft, however British European at least was unwilling to accept the risk of operating a unique type.
Firefighting air tanker versions of both the BAe 146 and the Avro RJ85 have been manufactured via the conversion of aircraft previously operated by airlines. Several organisations carry out such conversions, including under an arrangement between BAE Systems and US-based Minden Air. In January 2012, Conair Group announced its arrangements to market and promote the Avro RJ85 as a major air tanker platform. In October 2012, Air Spray Aviation of Alberta, Canada purchased its first BAe 146 for conversion into an air tanker.