RAF adapts BAe 146 CC3s for medical use

The Royal Air Force (RAF) has announced that a pair of BAe 146 CC3 tactical transports – operated by No 32 (The Royal) Squadron from RAF Northolt in west London – have been modified to provide a medical mission.

According to the service, the aircraft – serials ZE707 (c/n E2188) and ZE708 (c/n E2211) – were “adapted to carry medical patients in record time and at no cost,” being able to “transport critically ill patients and RAF medical staff for the first time.” The project was conducted through the air arm’s Astra programme, which aims to encourage innovation across the RAF.

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The RAF's BAe 146 CC3 tactical transport fleet can now perform a aeromedical mission. MoD Crown Copyright/Sgt 'Matty' Matthews

It added that on April 1, personnel from No 32 (TR) Squadron and the service’s Tactical Medical Wing (TMW) looked at options for employing the BAe 146 CC3 in an medical role and concluded that “stretcher stanchions already in use on [the] Voyager could potentially be affixed to pallet flooring inside the aircraft.”

Wg Cdr Jo Bland, officer commanding the RAF’s TMW, said: “This has been an amazing achievement in all areas bringing together [No 32 (TR) Squadron’s] residual capacity, [TMW’s] aeromedical evacuation (aeromed) capability and the design, production and engineering skills of [the] Joint Air Delivery Test [and] Evaluation Unit [(JADTEU)].

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One of the RAF's two BAe 146 CC3 aircraft taxis by at RAF Northolt on June 18. MoD Crown Copyright/Sgt 'Matty' Matthews

“This project embodies the very spirit of Astra, using existing military aircraft in a dual-hatted role and optimising use of key defence assets. TMW have never delivered aeromed on the BAe 146 in this manner before and it has been achieved at zero cost and in record time by smart use of pre-existing, available assets,” Bland added.

The engineering work was conducted by the JADTEU at RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire. Within a fortnight of receiving the task, the unit had designed and produced a serviceable solution which then entered a prototype phase. The service states that the trials “determined the adaptations were suitable” for all forms of aeromed missions, including for use by the service’s Critical Care Air Support Team.

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A glimpse inside the BAe 146 CC3 as medical crews demonstrate its new aeromed capability on June 18. MoD Crown Copyright/Sgt 'Matty' Matthews

Lt Col Sam Allinson, commanding officer of JADTEU, said: “It came as no surprise to me that the JADTEU team rose to this challenge so professionally; they are a superb team of experts drawn from across the military and civil service. Our core business is the conduct of operational trials and evaluation for the delivery of personnel, equipment and material by air, but it was particularly gratifying in this instance to be able to design, test and manufacture a solution so quickly in support of [the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD’s)] medical transportation capability.”

The RAF’s BAe 146 CC3 fleet comprises two former-TNT Airways aircraft, which have been modified to carry out a tactical airlifter role. The pair entered operational service with the air arm in March 2013 after being acquired by the MoD for £3.91m under an Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR) to support the drawdown of UK forces in Afghanistan.

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An ambulance waits to receive a patient during a demonstration of the BAe 146's new capability. MoD Crown Copyright/Sgt 'Matty' Matthews

Wg Cdr Bland added: “The advantage of the BAe 146 is that it can land at airports where Voyager can’t due to its smaller size and footprint. It suits our purposes brilliantly for short hops which can be completed at less cost and with less impact on the environment.”

By adding an aeromed capability aboard its CC3 fleet, the RAF has further expanded its already significant medical support mission within its Air Mobility Force and Joint Helicopter Command.  

However, this capability may not be available to the RAF for long, as in September last year, the MoD announced plans to retire and sell-off its entire BAe 146 fleet, which currently comprises four aircraft - two CC2 VIP transports and two CC3 tactical airlifters. As of June 21, no out-of-service date (OSD) had been given by the MoD or the RAF.