The British Aerospace 146s of the Royal Air Force have been a familiar sight for over 30 years first with the Queen’s Flight and then No 32 Squadron. The early months of 2022 have seen the type gradually withdrawn from service as the Royal Air Force prepares for the introduction of two Dassault Falcon 900LX aircraft. To mark the types retirement, No. 32 Squadron and RAF Northolt hosted a small photocall with the final aircraft in service.

Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.

The first Royal Air Force British Aerospace 146 CC Mk.2 entered service with the Queen’s Flight in April 1986 at RAF Benson. Their service entry had followed the evaluation of the type in 1983 with two leased examples which were designated as the BAe 146 CC Mk.1.

RAF BAe 146s from previous events

The BAe 146 CC Mk.2 is based on the 146-100 Statesman VIP variant of the successful British airliner. Rather than a passenger cabin that seats 70-94 people, the RAF aircraft are configured to carry 19 or 26 passengers in a luxury layout.  A total of three served with the RAF and were well known to the general public often featuring in the background of news reports covering the movements of members of the Royal Family and prominent politicians.

2013 saw the Royal Air Force add two more 146s to its fleet, this time the BAE Systems 146 C Mk.3 which is based on the 146-200QC. QC stands for quick change which allows these aircraft to fulfil roles as both passenger and freight aircraft. These aircraft were procured to support operations in Afghanistan adding a significant tactical airlift capability with a smaller aircraft than the C-130 Hercules. Like the CC Mk.2s, these were operated by 32 Squadron though they were painted grey rather than the rather more conspicuous red, white and blue of the other squadron aircraft.

Early 2022 saw a gradual withdrawal from service for the type in RAF service. On 24th January BAE 146 CC Mk.2 ZE701 was flown into IWM Duxford to join the Duxford Aviation Society’s collection of airliners. Both the C Mk.3s have subsequently retired been and flown Cranfield airfield to be prepared for new civilian owners.

BAe 146 CC Mk.2 ZE700 will finally be retired on Thursday 17th March when it will fly to St Athan to join the South Wales Aviation Museum. To mark the retirement RAF Northolt and No. 32 Squadron hosted a small photocall for enthusiasts with ZE700 on Sunday 13th March. Like Northolt’s famous ‘Nightshoots’ the event was held to raise funds for the restoration of Building 27 at the station. This was RAF Northolt’s Sector Operations Building, part of the Dowding system of Air Defence. The Grade II listed building is being restored to its June 1940 configuration and is entirely funded by public donations.

In addition to ZE700, the hangar doors were opened allowing photographers to capture a visiting Embraer Phenom T1 from No. 45(R) Squadron and AgustaWestland AW109 G-MOAL which often is used by 32 Squadron when its own aircraft is unavailable. Thanks must go to the personnel of RAF Northolt and 32 Squadron plus Phillip Dawe for hosting this short, but sweet event to mark the retirement of another iconic RAF type.