Westland Lysander

The Westland Lysander was a British army co-operation and liaison aircraft produced by Westland Aircraft used immediately before and during the Second World War. After becoming obsolete in the army co-operation role, the aircraft's exceptional short-field performance enabled clandestine missions using small, unprepared airstrips behind enemy lines to place or recover agents, particularly in occupied France with the help of the French Resistance. British army air co-operation aircraft were named after mythical or historical military leaders; in this case the Spartan general Lysander was chosen.


Westland Lysander
Class Aircraft
Type Utility
Manufacturer Westland Aircraft
Origin United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain)
Country Name Origin Year
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1936
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Australia View
Canada View
Egypt View
Finland View
France View
Ireland View
Poland View
Portugal View
South Africa View
Turkey (Ottoman Empire) View
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1938 1946 View
United States of America View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Westland Aircraft 1786 View

In 1934 the Air Ministry issued Specification A.39/34 for an army co-operation aircraft to replace the Hawker Hector. Initially Hawker Aircraft, Avro and Bristol were invited to submit designs, but after some debate within the Ministry, a submission from Westland was invited as well. The Westland design, internally designated P.8, was the work of Arthur Davenport under the direction of "Teddy" Petter. It was Petter's second aircraft design and he spent considerable time interviewing Royal Air Force pilots to find out what they wanted from such an aircraft. Less clear was whether he or the pilots understood the army cooperation role and what the army wanted, which was tactical reconnaissance and artillery reconnaissance capability - photographic reconnaissance and observation of artillery fire in daylight - up to about 15,000 yards (14 km) behind the enemy front. The result of Petter's pilot enquiries suggested that field of view, low-speed handling characteristics and STOL performance were the most important requirements.

Davenport and Petter worked to design an aircraft around these features: the result was unconventional and looked, by the time of its maiden fight on 15 June 1936, rather dated. The Lysander was powered by a Bristol Mercury air-cooled radial engine and had high wings and a fixed conventional landing gear faired inside large, streamlined spats. The spats had mountings for small, removable stub wings that could be used to carry light bombs or supply canisters. The wings had an unusual reverse taper towards the root, which gave the impression of a bent gull wing, although the spars were perfectly straight. It had a girder type construction with a light wood frame around that to give the aerodynamic shape. The forward part was duralumin tube joined with brackets and plates, and the after part was welded stainless steel tubes. Plates and brackets were cut from channel extrusions rather than forming from sheet steel. The front spar and lift struts were extrusions. The wing itself was fabric covered. A somewhat similar wing layout was also successfully used in a later Polish LWS-3 Mewa army co-operation aircraft and much earlier RWD-6 sports plane.

Despite its appearance, the Lysander was aerodynamically advanced; it was equipped with fully automatic wing slots and slotted flaps and a variable incidence tailplane. These refinements gave the Lysander a stalling speed of only 65 mph (104 km/h, 56.5 knots). It also featured the largest Elektron alloy extrusion made at the time: a single piece inside the spats supporting the wheels. This was a feature of British-built aircraft only – Canadian-built machines had a conventionally fabricated assembly due to the difficulties involved in manufacturing such a large extrusion. The Air Ministry requested two prototypes of the P.8 and the competing Bristol Type 148, quickly selecting the Westland aircraft for production and issuing a contract in September 1936.

The first Lysanders entered service in June 1938, equipping squadrons for army co-operation and were initially used for message-dropping and artillery spotting. When war broke out in Europe, the earlier Mk Is had been largely replaced by Mk IIs, the older machines heading for the Middle East. Some of these aircraft, now designated type L.1, operated with the Chindits of the British Indian Army in the Burma Campaign of the Second World War.

Four regular squadrons equipped with Lysanders accompanied the British Expeditionary Force to France in October 1939, and were joined by a further squadron early in 1940. Following the German invasion of France and the low countries on 10 May 1940, the Lysanders were put into action as spotters and light bombers. In spite of occasional victories against German aircraft, they made very easy targets for the Luftwaffe even when escorted by Hurricanes. Withdrawn from France during the Dunkirk evacuation, they continued to fly supply-dropping missions to Allied forces from bases in England; on one mission to drop supplies to troops trapped at Calais, 14 of 16 Lysanders and Hawker Hectors that set out were lost. 118 Lysanders were lost in or over France and Belgium in May and June 1940, of a total of 175 deployed. With the fall of France, it was clear that the type was unsuitable for the coastal patrol and army co-operation role, being described by Air Marshal Arthur Barratt, commander-in-chief of the British Air Forces in France as "quite unsuited to the task; a faster, less vulnerable aircraft was required." Nevertheless, throughout the remainder of 1940, Lysanders flew dawn and dusk patrols off the coast and in the event of an invasion of Britain, they were tasked with attacking the landing beaches with light bombs and machine guns. They were replaced in the home-based army co-operation role from 1941 by camera-equipped fighters such as the Curtiss Tomahawk and North American Mustang carrying out reconnaissance operations, while light aircraft such as the Taylorcraft Auster were used to direct artillery. Some UK-based Lysanders went to work operating air-sea rescue, dropping dinghies to downed RAF aircrew in the English Channel. Fourteen squadrons and flights were formed for this role in 1940 and 1941.

Role Army co-operation and liaison aircraft
Manufacturer Westland Aircraft
Designer Arthur Davenport, Teddy Petter
First flight 15 June 1936
Introduction June 1938
Retired 1946 (UK)
Primary users Royal Air Force
Royal Canadian Air Force
Egyptian Air Force
United States Army Air Forces
Number built 1786


General characteristics

  • Crew: One, pilot
  • Capacity: 1 passenger (or observer)
  • Length: 30 ft 6 in (9.29 m)
  • Wingspan: 50 ft 0 in (15.24 m)
  • Height: 14 ft 6 in (4.42 m)
  • Wing area: 260 ft² (24.2 m²)
  • Empty weight: 4,365 lb (1,984 kg)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 6,330 lb (2,877 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Bristol Mercury XX radial engine, 870 hp (649 kW)

Performance

  • Maximum speed: 212 mph (184 knots, 341 km/h) at 5,000 ft (1,520 m)
  • Range: 600 miles (522 nmi, 966 km)
  • Service ceiling: 21,500 ft (6,550 m)
  • Climb to 10,000 ft (3,050 m): 8 min
  • Take-off run to 50 ft (15 m): 305 yards (279 m)

Armament

  • Guns: Two forward-firing .303 in (7.7 mm) Browning machine guns in wheel fairings and two .303 Lewis guns for the observer
  • Bombs: Four 20 lb (9 kg) bombs under rear fuselage and 500 lb (227 kg) of bombs on stub wings if fitted

End notes