The BAe 146

Although the British aviation industry was not able challenge Boeing's dominance of the large jetliner market during the last half of the 20th century, Britain was able to achieve to compete in smaller jetliners, most significantly in the tidy "BAE 146" series of four-jet light airliners. This document provides a history and description of the BAe 146 series.

Photo Anthony Noble -

British Aerospace BAe 146-200 on takeoff Sept. 1990, Farnborough. Reg Num (HB-lXD)

British Aerospace BAe 146-200 on takeoff Sept. 1990, Farnborough. Reg Num (HB-lXD)

British Aerospace BAe 146 origins

In the early 1960s, the de Havilland aircraft company of Britain was working on the design of a small, twin turboprop, high-wing feederliner designated the "DH.123". De Havilland was then absorbed into the Hawker Siddeley Aviation company, with the concept mutating to a low-wing aircraft with twin turbofans mounted on the rear fuselage, designated the "HS.144".

That concept didn't go anywhere either, mostly because of the lack of a proper powerplant, and in early 1971 the design team decided to adopt a high-wing configuration with four small turbofans, focusing on the new US Avco Lycoming ALF 502 engine. The four-engine design was given the designation of "HS.146", and seemed promising enough to lead to a formal development program start on 29 August 1973, with the British government backing the program.

However, a Mideast war, an oil embargo, an energy crisis, and economic recession forced the government to back out, and the HS.146 project went on the back burner. Hawker Siddeley then became part of British Aerospace, which relaunched the program with restored government backing on 10 July 1978, featuring the old HS.146 design with some modest updates. Initial prototype construction began, with the company focusing on two initial variants, the "BAE 146 Series 100" and the stretched "BAE 146 Series 200". They were followed by the further stretched "BAE 146 Series 300".


British Aerospace BAe 146 100, 200 and 300 size comparison

British Aerospace BAe 146 100, 200 and 300 size comparison

The first Series 100 performed its initial flight on 3 September 1981, with the second following on 25 January 1982, and the third on 2 April 1982. The fourth machine was the first Series 200, and performed its initial flight on 1 August 1982. The BAE 146-100 received its certification on 20 May 1983, with Dan-Air performing the first revenue flight on 27 May 1983. Type certification of the BAE 146-200 followed later in the year.

The Series 300 prototype was rebuilt from the prototype Series 100, and performed its initial flight on 1 May 1987, with certification in September 1987.

Subassemblies for the BAE 146 were built at various British Aerospace plants in the UK, with international partners also contributing elements of the aircraft. Shorts Brothers in Belfast built the underwing nacelles for the ALF 502 turbofans, while Avco Aerostructures in the US built the main wing torsion box, and SAAB Scania in Sweden manufactured the tailplane and all flight control surfaces. Final assembly was at Hatfield in the UK.

British Aerospace BAe 146 Described / Variants

The British Aerospace BAe 146-100

The BAE 146 Series 100 provides a baseline for description of the family. The Series 100 is a tidy, appealing aircraft, with:

  • A high-mounted wing featuring a leading-edge sweepback of 15 degrees.
  • Four Avco Lycoming ALF 502R-5 turbofans with 31 kN (3,162 kgp / 6,970 lbf) thrust for takeoff; early production had ALF 502R-3 engines with 30 kN thrust.
  • A high tee tail.
  • Tricycle landing gear, with dual wheels on all gear assemblies. The nose gear retracts forward, while the main gear retracts into sponsons on the belly just under the rear of the wing.

All fuel storage is in integral wing tanks; optional tanks can be fitted in the wing roots to expand fuel capacity. There is a Garrett AiResearch GTCP 36-100 auxiliary power unit (APU) turbine in the tail for ground and emergency power.

The BAE 146 was specifically designed for short-field operation, with triple slotted flaps permitting short takeoffs, and an airbrake assembly in the tail plus heavy-duty brakes reducing landing roll. The engines are very quiet, making the type suitable for operations in dense urban areas.

BAE 146-100:
Spec Metric English
Wingspan 26.2 Meters 86 Feet
Wing Area 77.3 Sq_meters 832 Sq_feet
Length 26.2 Meters 86 Feet
Height 8.61 Meters 28 Feet 3 Inches
Empty Weight 23,290 Kilograms 51,340 Pounds
MTO Weight 38,100 Kilograms 84,000 Pounds
Cruise Speed 765 KPH 475 MPH / 415 KT
LR Cruise Speed 670 KPH 415 MPH / 360 KT
Cruise Altitude 8,840 Meters 29,000 Feet
Range, Normal Fuel 3,000 Kilometers 1,865 MI / 1,620 NMI
Range, Max Payload 1,630 Kilometers 1,010 MI / 880 NMI

The use of four engines on such a relatively small aircraft seems a bit odd, and there were criticisms of the BAE 146 at the outset for this feature, but a detailed analysis of the engines available at the time showed that no twin-engine configuration worked as well. No doubt four engines increase maintenance a bit, but they also mean that engine-out handling is no serious problem.

Maximum seating for the Series 100 is 94 passengers in a six-across row arrangement, though a more typical seat arrangement is 82 passengers. There are passenger doors on the left side of the fuselage, fore and aft, plus toilets fore and aft, and a galley in the rear. Cargo storage is under the floor.

The British Aerospace BAe 146-200

The BAE 146-200 is very similar to the BAE 146-100, but with a fuselage stretch of 2.39 meters (7 feet 8 inches) to a total length of 28.6 meters (93 feet 9 inches). Maximum seating is 112 passengers in rows of six, though more typical accommodations are 85 passengers in rows of five. Underfloor cargo volume is increased by 35%.

Empty weight is raised by about 600 kilograms (1,300 pounds) to 23,880 kilograms (52,650 pounds), while MTO weight is raised by about 4,085 kilograms (9,000 pounds) to 42,185 kilograms (93,000 pounds).

The Series 200 retains the ALF 502R-5 turbofans and wingspan of the Series 100. Range is similar to that of the Series 100, though short-field performance is degraded somewhat.


BAE 146-200QT \

BAE 146-200QT \"Quiet Trader\" variant with a rear cargo loading door

A "BAE 146-200QT Quiet Trader" variant with a rear cargo loading door on the left side of the aircraft and cargo handling provisions was also built, with a total cargo capacity of 11,825 kilograms (26,075 pounds). There had actually been a "BAE 146-100QT" as well, but only one was built.

A "combi" version, capable of being adjusted between various proportions of passenger or freight carriage, was built as well as the "BAE 146-200QC Quick Change". Maximum payload was 10,040 kilograms (22,130 pounds). A VIP transport variant of the -200 was promoted as the "Statesman", with three obtained by the Royal Air Force Queen's Flight as the "BAE 146 CC2".

Photo Air Dolomiti -

BAe-146-300 of Italian airline Air Dolomiti, based in Verona Italy

BAe-146-300 of Italian airline Air Dolomiti, based in Verona Italy

The BAE 146-300 is a further stretched derivative of the BAE 146-100, with the fuselage extended by 4.79 meters (15 feet 8 inches) to 30.99 meters (101 feet 8 inches). Empty weight is raised by about 1,590 kilograms (3,500 pounds) from the Series 100 to 24,880 kilograms (54,850 pounds), while MTO weight is raised by about 6,125 kilograms (13,500 pounds) to 44,225 kilograms (97,500 pounds). Maximum seating is 128 passengers in rows of six, or more reasonably 100 in rows of five. Of course a freighter version, the "BAE 146-300QT", was built along with the standard jetliner configuration.

The last of the original series BAE 146 jetliners was produced in 1993. Total BAE 146 production (including prototypes) amounted to 222 machines:

  • 35 Series 100 machines, including one -100QT freighter.
  • 116 Series 100 machines, including 14 -100QT freighters and 5 -100QC combi models.
  • 71 Series 300 machines, including 10 -300QT freighters.


The original BAE 146 family was replaced in production by the "Avro Regional Jet (RJ)" series, which featured AlliedSignal (now Honeywell) LF-507 engines with full authority digital engine control (FADEC), greater fuel efficiency (though not greater thrust), and substantially improved reliability; an updated "Spaceliner" cabin interior; and modernized digital electronics. Modifications to reduce weight and drag were introduced in 1996.

There was little change in external appearance and it is difficult to tell an Avro RJ apart from its BAE 146 equivalent. The "Avro" name was given because the RJs were built at the old Avro plant -- it appears that there was some corporate maneuvering over an international collaboration involved in the "name games", but whatever the tedious details, in the end the AVRO RJ jetliners were still BAE Systems products. Three RJ models were introduced:

The RJ family was publicly announced in 1990, with the prototype for the first of the new series, an RJ85 machine, performing its initial flight on 23 March 1992. A total of 170 Avro RJ machines were built up to end of production in 2002, including 12 RJ70, 87 RJ85, and 71 RJ100 jetliners. It doesn't appear that any of them were built in QT freighter or QC combi configuration.

That was not quite the end of the BAE 146 story, since BAE Systems wanted to produce a further updated, extended range "RJX" series of aircraft, using the new Honeywell AS977 turbofan. The AS977 was to improve thrust by 5%, fuel economy by 15%, overall engine operating costs by 20% and provide lower noise levels and emissions. The RJX series would have up to 17% longer range and lower empty weight.

The RJX program was formally launched in 2000, with an "RJX85" machine performing its initial flight on 28 April 2001, and an "RJX100" following on 23 September 2001. A second RJX100 was flown, but the fact that the first one flew less than two weeks after the monstrous terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 had a major impact on the program. An economic downturn was in progress at the time, and public nerves over flying resulted in severe pressure on airlines.

The RJX program was axed on 27 November 2001. That ended production of the BAE 146 family at 394 aircraft. BAE Systems has introduced a cockpit upgrade to provide modern flat-panel displays and some new avionics to the first-generation BAE 146 machines, though it hardly amounts to a full "glass cockpit" upgrade. Programs are under consideration to perform freighter conversions.

The BAe 146 - unusual and unproduced variants

There were few unusual variants of the BAE 146. One of the most distinctive was the "BAE 146-301ARA", where "ARA" stood for "Atmospheric Research Aircraft". It was built from the prototype Series 300 aircraft, itself a rebuild of the first prototype Series 100, and is used by the British Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements. The ARA was handed over in early 2004. It features additional fuel tanks in the cargo hold, Honeywell LF507 turbofans, limited cockpit improvements, a set of workstations for a typical complement of ten researchers, and a clutter of external sensors mounted on the fuselage and wings.

Other specialized variants didn't get off the ground. BAE flew a demonstrator of a "BAE 146-100STA" fitted for inflight refueling for military service, but nobody bought it. Other military versions were considered, including fairly straightforward modifications of cargo / combi variants; a heavily modified cargolifter variant with a rear loading ramp; a search and rescue variant; and an inflight refueling tanker. Nobody bit on any of them.

An "RJ115" variant of the RJ100 was offered, featuring extra emergency exits to permit carriage of up to 128 passengers, and an "Avro Business Jet" variant of the RJ series was promoted as well, but nobody bought it, either.


BAe 146 RJ-120 artists impression

BAe 146 RJ-120 artists impression

One interesting proposed civil variant was the "RJ 120", which was stretched to 35.26 meters (115 feet 8 inches) to give a passenger capacity of 125 with single-class 5-abreast seating and up to 139 with single-class 6-abreast seating. It also has a larger, redesigned wing with winglets, and twin engines, such as the CFM56. It was another nonstarter.

Author: Greg Goebel