Another BAe air tanker takes flight

Conair RJ85 first flight
The first flight of Conair’s BAe Avro RJ85, which is being built for Aero Flite. Conair photo by Jeff Bough.

Conair Group of Abbotsford, British Columbia has started flight testing their BAe Avro RJ85, identified as Tanker 160, which is being converted from a jet-powered airliner into an air tanker. Conair is building two of them for Aero Flite. The RJ85 is a derivative of the BAe-146, but with improved engines. The 146 first flew in 1981 while the RJ85 was first delivered in 1993. Conair is the largest air tanker operator in the world with a fleet of around 50 fixed-wing special mission aircraft, including Convair 580s, Conair Firecats, Douglas DC-6s, and Lockheed Electra air tankers.

Tanker 160 first flight
Conair’s Tanker 160, a BAe Avro RJ85 after first flight, August 21, 2013. Photo by Coastal Pacific Aviation.

Tanker 160 reminds me of one of the “Guppy” type aircraft heavily modified to carry large cargo items. Aero Union sold the Mini Guppy below to Erickson in 1988 who then used it to haul heavy equipment until 1995, when it was retired to the Tillamook Air Museum in Tillamook, Oregon, where it resides today.

Erickson Air Crane Mini Guppy
Erickson Air Crane’s Mini Guppy

BAE Systems Regional Aircraft is making specialist engineering contributions to Conair and three other aircraft conversion programs underway in North America.

Neptune has acquired two BAe-146s which were converted by Tronos in Canada. Tronos has four more in progress for Neptune.

Minden Air Corp. has been working on their conversion of a BAe-146 for several years and began flight testing it this summer. A second BAe is under development and eventually these aircraft will replace the venerable P2V Neptune currently in service with Minden.

Air Spray Aviation Services of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada which currently has a fleet of Lockheed Electra turboprop air tankers has established a US base at Chico, California and has acquired a BAe 146-200 for conversion.

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8 thoughts on “Another BAe air tanker takes flight”

  1. What happened to the BAe 146, did the cabin get over pressurized. Better check those vents. Looks like a gravity system. Will it make it for fire season 2014?

  2. No Johnny

    It’s the BS they are carrying around from all the studies of the USFS Airtanker program has accomplished alllllllll these years

    They are just looking for a place for proper burial that other countries and aviation believers won’t accept………

  3. Not only was this Leo’s shortest response, but has to be one of the funniest I’ve seen on this site, well done. So a few more tankers (maybe) next season? Is anyone looking a decade from now or will all the National Forest be toast? Isn’t this (F.S.) the agency that was reluctant to even look into a VLAT program a year ago? “Moving forward” better start running, clocks ticking.

  4. It could be days, weeks, or months before this aircraft receives full certification from the FAA, the Interagency AirTanker Board, and the U.S. Forest Service. It is a brand new and very non-traditional tank design, and one that may have an effect on the flight characteristics of the aircraft as well as the performance of the number 2 and 3 engines.

    It is good to see innovation and competition in the air tanker industry.

  5. “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.

    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.”

  6. Hi Guys….this is actually my photo as taken for Conair. You may have got it through BAE but the credit should be for Jeff Bough Photography. Thanks….Jeff

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