BAE Systems has unveiled its proposal for a cost-effective air-to-air refuelling (A2R) variant of BAe 146/Avro regional jetliner (RJ) aircraft at the 2013 Defence Services Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition in London, UK.
With its high wing and T-tail configuration, the new aircraft will be ideal for A2R operations, and builds on the 146/Avro RJ's success in a variety of military and special role applications, according to the company.
BAE Systems Regional Aircraft Engineering business director Mark Taylor said the A2R variant will prove to be a sound business proposition for military planners and air forces requiring this capability, but facing defence budget cuts.
''Whether to provide A2R tactical tanker capability or, in particular, to provide realistic A2R training instead of using expensive existing assets, the acquisition of a fleet of these aircraft can be accomplished at a fraction of the cost of current refuelling aircraft, whilst delivering excellent performance,'' Taylor said.
Proximity flight trials have already been carried out by BAE Systems Regional Aircraft using a BAe 146-200, Avro RJ85 and Hawk jet trainer, which confirmed that the aircraft has considerable potential as an A2R aircraft for refuelling a range of aircraft types and sizes, specifically tilt-rotor platforms.
The company created design concepts for a hose and drogue unit (HDU)-based system of the 146/Avro RJ, which included an option for additional fuel tanks within the cabin that can provide up to 18,000kg of fuel available for transfer in addition to 7,000kg provided by its standard tankage.
The production of basic specification centreline HDU equipped aircraft for flight trials is estimated by the company to take around 18 months.
In addition to auxiliary fuel tanks, a centreline HDU, lights, cameras and control systems on the flight deck and military communications, the aircraft can be optionally fitted with a dual HDU installation and defensive aids, including missile protection, flight deck armour and fuel tank inerting, and unpaved runway operations.
The aircraft will be competitively priced, with BAE estimating $5m for a basic aircraft and approximately £5 to £10m for conversion, depending on final specification.
Image: A BAe 146/Avro regional jetliner aircraft during its flight. Photo: courtesy of BAE Systems.