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The Westland Lysander was a Britishmarker army co-operation and liaison aircraft produced by Westland Aircraft. It was used during the Second World War and was renowned for its ability to operate from small, unprepared airstrips. The aircraft's exceptional short-field performance made possible clandestine missions behind enemy lines that placed or recovered agents, particularly in occupied France. Like other British army air co-operation aircraft, it was given the name of the Spartanmarker general Lysander.

Design and development

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 W.E.W. 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. The result of Petter's 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 its 15 June 1936 maiden flight, rather antiquated. The Lysander was powered by a Bristol Mercury air-cooled radial engine, 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. In appearance it was not dissimilar to the Polish LWS-3 Mewa. The wings had an unusual reverse taper towards the root, which gave the impression of a gull wing, although in fact the spars were perfectly straight.

Despite its appearance, the Lysander was aerodynamically advanced; it was equipped with automatic wing slats, slotted flap 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. The Air Ministry requested two prototypes of the P.8 and the competing Bristol Type 148, quickly selecting the Westland aircraft for production, issuing a contract in September 1936.

Operational history

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 Francemarker. These 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 unless escorted by Hurricanes. Almost half the Lysanders operating in and over France were lost and, with the fall of France, the type was quickly withdrawn from its army co-operation role. Back in England, some 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 during 1940-41.

Special duties

In August 1941, a new squadron, No. 138 , was formed to undertake missions for the Special Operations Executive to maintain clandestine contact with the French Resistance. Among its aircraft were Lysander Mk IIIs, which would fly over and land in occupied France. While general supply drops could be left to the rest of No. 138's aircraft, the Lysander could insert and remove agents from the continent or retrieve Allied aircrew who had been shot down over occupied territory and had evaded capture. For this role, the Mk IIIs were fitted with a fixed entry/exit ladder over the port side to hasten access to the rear cockpit and a large drop tank under the belly. In order to slip in unobtrusively, the Lysanders were painted matt black; operations almost always took place within a week of a full moon, as moonlight was essential for navigation.

The Lysanders flew from secret airfields at Newmarketmarker and later Tempsfordmarker, but used regular RAF stations to fuel-up for the actual crossing, particularly RAF Tangmeremarker. Flying without any navigation equipment other than a map and compass, Lysanders would land on short strips of land, such as fields, marked out by four or five torches. They were only designed to carry one passenger in the rear cockpit, but in case of urgent necessity, three could be carried in extreme discomfort. The pilots of No. 138 and, from early 1942, No. 161 Squadron transported 101 agents to, and recovered 128 agents from Nazi occupied Europe. The Lysander proved to be a success in this role and continued to undertake such duties until the liberation of France in 1944.

Free French

The Lysander also joined the ranks of the Forces Aériennes Françaises Libres (Free French Air Force, FAFL) when Groupe Mixte de Combat (GMC) 1, formed at RAF Odihammarker on 29 August 1940, was sent to French North-West Africa in order to persuade the authorities in countries like Gabonmarker, Cameroonmarker and Chadmarker, which were still loyal to Vichy France, to join the Gaullist cause against the Axis powers, and to attack Italian ground forces in Libyamarker. As with all FAFL aircraft, the Lysanders sported the Cross of Lorraine insignia on the fuselage and the wings, as opposed to the tricolor roundel first used in 1914, in order to distinguish their aircraft from those flying for the Vichy French Air Force. The Lysanders were mostly employed on reconnaissance missions, but were also used to carry out occasional attacks. Twenty-four Lysanders in all were used by the FAFL.

Other duties

The type also filled other, less glamorous roles such as target-towing and communication aircraft. Two aircraft (T1443 and T1739) were transferred to British Overseas Airways Corporation for training and 18 were used by the Fleet Air Arm. All British Lysanders were withdrawn from service in 1946.

Export customers of the type included Finland (Mk I: 4, Mk III: 9), Ireland (Mk II: 6), Turkey (Mk II: 36), Portugal (Mk IIIA: 8), the United States (25), India (22) and Egypt (20). Egyptian Lysanders were the last to see active service, against Israel in the War of Independence in 1948.

A total of 1,786 were built, including 225 Canadian examples that were licence-built by National Steel Car in Toronto, Ontario during the late 1930s.

Civilian operation

Postwar, a number of war surplus ex-RCAF Lysanders were employed as aerial applicators with Westland Dusting Service, operating in Alberta and western Canada.


Lysander Mk.I
Powered by one 890 hp (664 kW) Bristol Mercury XII radial piston engine. Two forward-firing 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Browning machine gun in wheel fairings and one pintle-mounted 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis or Vickers K machine gun in rear cockpit. Optional spat-mounted stub wings carried 500 lb (227 kg) of bombs. Four 20 lb (9 kg) bombs could be carried under rear fuselage.
Lysander TT Mk I
Lysander Mk Is converted into target tugs.
Lysander Mk II
Powered by one 905 hp (675 kW) Bristol Perseus XII radial piston engine.
Lysander TT Mk II
Target tug conversion of the Lysander Mk.II.
Lysander Mk III
Powered by one 870 hp (649 kW) Bristol Mercury XX or 30 radial piston engine, 350 delivered from July 1940. Twin 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Browning guns in rear cockpit.
Lysander Mk IIIA
Similar to the Lysander Mk I. Twin 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis guns in rear cockpit.
Lysander Mk III SCW
Special version for clandestine operations. No armament, long-range fuel tank, fixed external ladder.
Lysander TT Mk III
Lysander Mk Is, Mk IIs and Mk IIIs converted into target tugs.
Lysander TT Mk IIIA
100 dedicated target tugs.
P.12 Lysander Delanne
Experiment to try adapting the Lysander as a turret fighter, with twin tailed Delanne tandem wing and 4-gun Nash & Thomson power-operated tail gun turret replacing the empennage.. Never proceeded past flying prototype with turret mock-up.



A small number are preserved in museums in the UK and Canada and elsewhere. The National Air and Space Museummarker, Smithsonian Institution, in the Udvar-Hazy Centermarker located in the Chantilly, Virginia, suburb of Washington DCmarker near Dulles International Airportmarker has a Westland Lysander Mk IIIA on display, painted in the markings of No. 138 Squadron RAF (famed for their clandestine missions in wartime Europe).

A number of Lysanders are in museums in Canada including a Mk III (serial no. R9003) at the Canada Aviation Museummarker in Ottawa, Canadamarker. This example is a composite of three aircraft and was restored by the RCAF as a Centennial project in 1967.

A Mk III (serial no. 2363) is in flying condition at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museummarker in Ontariomarker. It flew for the first time following its restoration a few weeks before the Museum's Flyfest on 20–21 June 2009, and was flown publicly for the first time at that event. It is finished in a yellow & black 'bumblebee' target tug scheme.

A Lysander Mk IIIT was also on display at the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum, Brandon, Manitobamarker, Canadamarker until July 2003 when it was disassembled and shipped to a museum in Portugalmarker. Like many of the Lysanders that were retained in Canada as training aircraft, it was resplendent in bright "trainer" yellow.

One of the world's last airworthy Lysanders is part of the Shuttleworth Collectionmarker based at Old Warden Airfieldmarker, Bedfordshire. It is a regular at several vintage air shows, including the Shuttleworth displays and "Flying Legends" at Duxfordmarker.

A Lysander Mk IIIT (serial no. 1589) is a Canadian-built trainer on display at the Indian Air Force Museum (IAFM) at Palam, New Delhi.

A Canadian built Mk III, construction number 1206, formerly RCAF s/n 2365, registered C-GVZZ, is being restored by Vintage Wings of Canada. It will be painted in No. 400 "City of Toronto" RCAF Squadron markings.

Specifications (Lysander Mk III)

Orthographic projection of the Lysander Mk I, with profile view of the Mk.III(SD) covert operations aircraft.

See also


  1. Taylor 1969, p. 443.
  2. Masters, John. The Road Past Mandalay. London: Bengal-Rockland, 1961. ISBN 0-30436-157-7.
  3. Gunston, Bill. Classic World War II Aircraft Cutaways. London: Osprey, 1995. ISBN 1-85532-526-8.
  4. Milberry 1979, p. 116.
  5. Milberry 1979, pp. 98, 213.
  6. Lysander Hybrid
  7. " Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum Flyfest Hamilton, ON, June 20-21, 2009." World Airshow News. Retrieved: 4 September 2009.

  • Donald, David and Jon Lake, eds. Encyclopedia of World Military Aircraft. London: AIRtime Publishing, 1996. ISBN 1-880588-24-2.
  • Hall, Alan W. Westland Lysander, Warpaint Series No. 48. Luton, Bedfordshire, UK: Warpaint Books Ltd., 2005. ISBN 970-000000-704-7.
  • James, Derek N. Westland: A History. Gloucestershire, UK: Tempus Publishing Ltd, 2002. ISBN 0-7524-2772-5.
  • Kightly, James. Westland Lysander. Redbourn, UK: Mushroom Model Publications, 2006. ISBN 83-917178-4-4.
  • Mason, Francis K. The Westland Lysander, Aircraft in Profile Number 159. Leatherhead, Surrey, UK: Profile Publications, 1967. No ISBN.
  • Milberry, Larry. Aviation in Canada. Toronto: McGrawHill Ryerson Limited, 1979. ISBN 0-07082-778-8.
  • Mondey, David. Westland (Planemakers 2). London: Jane's Publishing Company, 1982. ISBN 0-7106-0134-4.
  • Ovčáčík, Michal and Karel Susa. Westland Lysander Mks.I, II, III/IIIA, III(SD)/IIIA(SD), TT Mks. I, II, III. Prague, Czech Republic: Mark 1 Ltd., 1999. ISBN 80-902559-1-4.
  • Robertson, Bruce. Lysander Special. Shepperton, Surrey, UK: Ian Allan Ltd., 1977. ISBN 0-7110-0764-0.
  • Taylor, John W.R. "Westland Lysander." Combat Aircraft of the World from 1909 to the present. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1969. ISBN 0-425-03633-2.

External links

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