Westland Lysander

Preserved Lysander flying in 2012
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
Indian Air Force
Royal Canadian Air Force
Egyptian Air Force
United States Army Air Forces
Number built 1,786

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.

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 "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 co-operation 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.

Westland Lysander Mk III (SD), the type used for special missions into occupied France during World War II.

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[1] and a variable incidence tailplane. These refinements gave the Lysander a stalling speed of only 65 mph (104 km/h, 56.5 knots).[2] 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.

Operational history

December 1942. Four Lysander Mk IIIAs of No. 1433 Flight RAF, based at Ivato, over a typical Madagascar landscape, shortly after the official end of the Madagascar campaign. (Photographer: Sgt J.D. Morris).

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.[3]

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, 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.[4][5] 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.[5][6] 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."[7] Nevertheless, throughout the remainder of 1940, Lysanders flew dawn and dusk patrols off the coast[8] and in the event of an invasion of Britain, they were tasked with attacking the landing beaches with light bombs and machine guns.[9] 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.[10] Some UK-based Lysanders went to work operating air-sea rescue, dropping dinghies to downed RAF aircrew in the English Channel.[11] Fourteen squadrons and flights were formed for this role in 1940 and 1941.

Special duties

In August 1941 a new squadron, No. 138 (Special Duties), 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 flew over and landed 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 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 Lysanders were painted matte black; operations almost always took place within a week of a full moon, as moonlight was essential for navigation. The aircraft undertook such duties until the liberation of France in 1944.

Lysanders flew from secret airfields at Newmarket and later Tempsford, but used regular RAF stations to fuel-up for the actual crossing, particularly RAF Tangmere. 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. Or to avoid having to land, the agent, wearing a special padded suit, stepped off at very low altitude and rolled to a stop on the field.[12] They were originally designed to carry one passenger in the rear cockpit, but for SOE use the rear cockpit was modified to carry two passengers in extreme discomfort in case of urgent necessity.[13] The pilots of No. 138 and from early 1942, No. 161 Squadron transported 101 agents to and recovered 128 agents from Nazi-occupied Europe.[14] The Germans knew little about the British aircraft and wished to study one. Soldiers captured an intact Lysander in March 1942 when its pilot was unable to destroy it after a crash, but a train hit the truck carrying the Lysander, destroying the cargo.[15]

Free French

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 Odiham on 29 August 1940, was sent to French North-West Africa in order to persuade the authorities in countries such as Gabon, Cameroon and Chad, which were still loyal to Vichy France, to join the Gaullist cause against the Axis powers, and to attack Italian ground forces in Libya. As with all FAFL aircraft, Lysanders sported the Cross of Lorraine insignia on the fuselage and the wings instead of the French tricolor roundel first used in 1914, to distinguish their aircraft from those flying for the Vichy French Air Force. Lysanders were mostly employed on reconnaissance missions, but were also used to carry out occasional attacks. In all, 24 Lysanders were used by the FAFL.


Lysander II of 110 (AC) Squadron RCAF, in silver delivery scheme at RCAF Station Rockcliffe, Ontario.
Westland Lysander IIT target tug of No.3 OTU RCAF in 1944 with black and yellow stripes.

104 British-built Lysanders were delivered to Canada supplementing 225 that were built under license by National Steel Car at Malton, Ontario (near Toronto) with production starting in October 1938 and the first aircraft flying in August 1939.

The RCAF primarily operated them in the army co-operation role, where they represented a major improvement over the antiquated Westland Wapiti which could trace its origins back to 1916.

Initial training was conducted at RCAF Station Rockcliffe (near Ottawa, Ontario) with 123 Squadron running an army co-operation school there. Units that operated the Lysander for training in this role in Canada include 2 Squadron, 110 Squadron (which became 400 Squadron overseas) and 112 Squadron.

414 Squadron RCAF was formed overseas and joined, 110 squadron RCAF and 112 Squadron RCAF with Lysanders. Prior to going overseas 2 Squadron RCAF had been disbanded and the airmen reassigned to 110 and 112 Squadrons to bring them up to war establishment (2 Squadron would later reform in England as a Hurricane unit and eventually be renumbered to 402 Squadron). In all there were three squadrons ready to begin operations against Hitler's invaders. As Operation Sea Lion was averted the high losses suffered by RAF Lysanders in France was taken into account and therefore any offensive cross channel plans were put on hold although they continued training with the Lysanders until suitable replacements were available.

118 Squadron and 122 Squadron would be the only units to use their Lysanders for active duty operations – 118 in Saint John, New Brunswick, and 122 at various locations on Vancouver Island where they performed anti-submarine patrols and conducted search and rescue operations. During the same period, 121 Squadron and several Operational Training Units (OTUs) used the Lysander for target towing duties, with a high visibility yellow and black striped paint job but by late 1944 all Lysanders had been withdrawn from flying duties.[16]

Fighter duties in Canada

For a brief period RCAF Lysanders were assigned to operational fighter squadrons in Canada. This was during the emergency of 1940 when the RCAF 111 Squadron and RCAF 118 Squadron were re-designated as Fighter Squadrons. These squadrons were supposed to convert however no fighter aircraft were immediately available. The Lysanders did not see action but they did allow crews to work up at a time when it was critical to do so. Every available Hurricane fighter had been sent overseas to fight in the Battle of Britain leaving the RCAF at home without a modern fighter aircraft.

111 Coastal Artillery Squadron replaced their Avro trainers with Lysanders and were reclassified as an army co-operation unit; in June it was again reclassified as a fighter squadron - the only one on the west coast. 118 Squadron was also re-designated a fighter squadron but the Lysander was so completely lacking in the fighter role the squadron was disbanded in September. While the Lysanders on the west coast soldiered on, 118 Squadron was again re-formed in December 1940. Fifteen unwanted Grumman Goblin fighters produced by the Canadian Car and Foundry were reluctantly assigned to the re-formed 118 Fighter Squadron that immediately moved from Rockcliffe to Dartmouth, Nova Scotia in order to defend Canada's east coast.

Like other units in Canada and the UK they were soon re-equipped with the Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk. 111 Squadron flew Kittyhawks during the Defence of Alaska, as part of the RCAF X-Wing based in Anchorage. Soon large numbers of Kittyhawks were delivered from the U.S. under Lend Lease, and the Canadian Car and Foundry produced a growing number of Hawker Hurricanes, many of which were retained for RCAF home service.

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 (BOAC) 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 that were built under licence by National Steel Car in Toronto, Ontario, Canada during the late 1930s.[17]

Civilian operation

After the war a number of surplus ex-RCAF Lysanders were employed as aerial applicators with Westland Dusting Service, operating in Alberta and western Canada.[18] Two of these were saved for inclusion in Lynn Garrison's collection to be displayed in Calgary, Alberta.


A Westland Lysander IIIA preserved at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
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 guns 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 sleeve valve 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. Mercury 20 engine. Twin 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis guns in rear cockpit.
Lysander Mk III SCW (Special Contract Westland)
Special version for clandestine operations. No armament, long-range 150 gallon 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
(Unofficially referred to as the Westland Wendover)[19]
Adaptation of a Lysander II as a turret fighter, its standard wing retained but with a twin tailed Delanne type rear wing and 4-gun Nash & Thomson power-operated tail gun turret replacing the empennage. It flew well but did not proceeded past trials with turret mock-up.[20]

In 1940 at least one standard Lysander was tested with a pair of 20 mm cannon mounted on the undercarriage, replacing the stub wings; the intention was to use the aircraft for ground attack missions against the threatened German invasion of Britain.



Westland Lysander Mk.III flown by the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton, Ontario

A number of Lysanders are preserved in museums in Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, Belgium, and elsewhere.

The National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, in the Udvar-Hazy Center located in the Chantilly, Virginia, suburb of Washington DC near Dulles International Airport has a Westland Lysander Mk IIIA on display, painted in a night finish with grey and green topsides, and marked as AC-B N7791, a No. 138 Squadron RAF aircraft famous for spy-dropping missions in wartime Europe.[21]

Another example in the United States is owned by the Fantasy of Flight Museum but is currently on loan to and displayed at the nearby Florida Air Museum at the Sun 'n Fun Fly-In campus entrance, on the southwest corner of Lakeland Linder Regional Airport, in Lakeland, Florida. It is painted in a temperate sea scheme (extra dark sea grey and dark slate grey over sky) and marked as BA-C serial V9545.

In Belgium, Sabena Old Timers' volunteers and Sabena Airlines personnel restored the remains of a former RCAF Lysander during 1983–1988. It is registered as OO-SOP. The engine performance has been problematic, resulting in a forced landing and serious damage. Repairs were completed in December 2010. Also in Belgium, OO-SOT (Ex RCAF serial 2442) is being restored to flying condition.[22]

A Westland built Lysander Mk III (serial no. R9003) is at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa, Canada. This example was a composite, restored from three aircraft by the RCAF as a centennial project in 1967 and is painted in the early war temperate land scheme (dark earth and dark green over sky).

A Mk III (serial no. 2363) is in flying condition at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Ontario. It flew for the first time following its restoration a few weeks before the Museum's Flyfest on 20–21 June 2009.[23] It is finished in a yellow & black 'bumblebee' target tug scheme.

A Canadian built Mk III, construction number 1206, formerly RCAF s/n 2365, registered C-GVZZ, is being flown by Vintage Wings of Canada. It is painted in No. 400 "City of Toronto" RCAF Squadron markings, and is doped silver overall with RCAF serial number 416. After a full restoration, it first flew 18 June 2010 in Gatineau, QC.[24]

Lysander Mk III construction number 1194, formerly RCAF s/n 2349 is on display at the Canadian Museum of Flight in Langley, British Columbia without most of its fabric covering. This one was restored for Expo 86 in Vancouver. The wings came from Cliff Douglas in Coutenay, B.C. The fuselage was found in the Prairies. The first fuselage was destroyed en route to B.C. in a vehicle accident and another one was obtained.

Lysander Mk IIIT (ex RCAF serial number 2375) was on display at the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum, Brandon, Manitoba, Canada until July 2003 when it was shipped to a museum in Portugal. Like many Lysanders used in Canada, it was painted in "trainer" yellow.

Westland Lysander at the Shuttleworth annual air show at Old Warden in 2009

Another airworthy Lysander is part of the Shuttleworth Collection based at Old Warden Airfield, Bedfordshire. It is a regular at vintage air shows, including the Shuttleworth displays and "Flying Legends" at Duxford. It is painted in the all black colour scheme of the clandestine SOE aircraft of 1942 and is marked as V9367 MA-B (of No. 161 Squadron RAF) the aircraft flown by Pilot Officer Peter Vaughan-Fowler, DSO, DFC and bar, AFC.

RAF Museum Hendon near London has a Lysander Mk III painted in the early war brown and green temperate land scheme marked LX-L R9125 of No. 225 Squadron RAF.

Imperial War Museum at Duxford has a Lysander III painted similarly to the NASM example but marked as MA-J V9673 also of No. 161 Squadron RAF.

Wessex Aviation and Transport had a Lysander IIIa marked as BA-C V9545 No. 277 Squadron RAF as of 1996. Current disposition is unknown. Aside from this example, several other Lysanders are in private hands.

A Lysander Mk IIIT (serial no. 1589) is a Canadian-built trainer on display at the Indian Air Force Museum, Palam (IAFM) in New Delhi, and is painted in spurious colours. It is possible that this is the one that Canada traded for a B-24 Liberator bomber in the late 1960s.

Specifications (Lysander Mk III)

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

Data from Westland Aircraft since 1915[25]

General characteristics



See also

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
Related lists



  1. Flight 1938 p. 572
  2. Taylor 1969, p. 443.
  3. Masters, John. The Road Past Mandalay. London: Bengal-Rockland, 1961. ISBN 0-304-36157-7.
  4. Air International, January 1984, pp. 26–27.
  5. 1 2 March 1998, p. 243.
  6. James 1991, p. 247.
  7. Air International January 1984, p. 27.
  8. Rickard, J. "No. 613 Squadron (RAF): Second World War", HistoryOfWar.org, 6 April 2012.
  9. "RAF Museum: Westland Lysander III." Royal Air Force Museum, 2012. Retrieved: 23 December 2012.
  10. Air International February 1984, p. 81.
  11. Air International February 1984, p. 82.
  12. Josephine Butler
  13. Griffiths, Frank, Winged Hours, 1981, p. 12.
  14. Gunston, Bill. Classic World War II Aircraft Cutaways. London: Osprey, 1995. ISBN 1-85532-526-8.
  15. Breuer 2000, pp. 135–137.
  16. Kostenuk and Griffin 1977, p. 56.
  17. Milberry 1979, p. 116.
  18. Milberry 1979, pp. 98, 213.
  19. Bowers 1984 p.34-5
  20. James 1991 pp.243-4
  21. "Westland Lysander IIIa."Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Retrieved: 13 June 2014.
  22. "Sabena: Old Timer'S Lysander "OO-SOT", "MA-D"." skynet.be. Retrieved: 3 March 2010.
  23. "Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum Flyfest Hamilton, Ontario, 20–21 June 2009." World Airshow News. Retrieved: 4 September 2009.
  24. "It's Official; She's Airborne!", Vintage Wings of Canada, 18 June 2010.
  25. James 1991, pp. 252–253.


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