The BAe 146/Avro RJ was the last all-British constructed jetliner family. Stephen Skinner reviews the history of this versatile type.
Aviation enthusiasts probably expected that, as the small number of blue-chip operators of the BAe 146/Avro RJ dwindled, the aircraft would just gracefully fade away, but this is not the case. Even though the last example was completed 16 years ago, the type is still in demand as an airliner, freighter and for a myriad of other roles.
The 146 went through a lengthy gestation, followed by go-ahead, then suspension and resuscitation before making its first flight on September 3, 1981. The original ideas began with a de Havilland project in the late 1950s, when manufacturers were considering Douglas Dakota replacements. With Hawker Siddeley’s takeover of de Havilland, the Hatfield proposal was considered alongside one from the former Avro factory at Woodford near Manchester, and then the two teams were instructed to work together.
The fruit of the joint team’s effort eventually became the high-winged, four-engined 146. Choosing an engine had proved difficult and the result was the American Avco Lycoming ALF502. These four quiet engines provided excellent airfield performance so there was no need for the complexities of leading-edge devices and thrust reversers.
This new Hawker Siddeley 146 was aimed as a replacement for Fokker F.27s and
HS 748s. It was launched in August 1973 and, sensibly, from its inception there were two versions: the 146-100 and the larger 146-200. But only 13 months after the go-ahead, development costs spiralled and Hawker Siddeley cancelled the project. The 146 was kept alive owing to the strength of worker representations and the support of the Labour government, which paid for small-scale of work to continue at Hatfield until the aircraft industry was nationalised by Labour.
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Photo caption: Former 146-100 prototype and later 146-300 development aircraft G-LUXE, had the distinction of being the last delivery of a 146/RJ from Woodford. The flight took place on May 10, 2004. BAE Systems