In 1934, the British 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. (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. There was no clear idea of what the new aircraft needed to be able to do, and so in 1935 Petter spent some time with the army co-operation squadrons. Even there he found no consensus, but most pilots agreed that the most important requirements for the new aircraft were to be able to operate from small spaces, be able to fly at low speeds without stalling or losing control and that the pilot needed a clear forward view.
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. However, it was also the first custom-designed army cooperation aircraft to be built for the RAF since the Armstrong Whitworth Atlas of the late 1920s.
With a distinctive high-set wing and small stub-wings attached to the main wheel struts to carry weapons/stores, despite its appearance, the Lysander was aerodynamically advanced with automatic wing slats, slotted flaps and a variable incidence tailplane. These refinements gave the Lysander a very low stalling speed. One of the original STOL (Short Take Off and Landing) designs, the Lysander could land and take off in the length of a football field.
The Lysander was a two seater, powered by a Bristol Mercury air-cooled radial engine, metal structured with top mounted wings and a fixed undercarriage inside large, streamlined spats. 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. The wings were supported by V struts that linked to the undercarriage and 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 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. The wheels were contained within streamlined spats, which also contained the forward firing guns. The spats also had mountings for small, removable stub wings that could be used to carry light bombs or supply canisters. Twelve small antipersonnel bombs could be carried under small stub-wings fitted to the spats.
Armament consisted of one 0.303 in Browning machine gun operated by the pilot, in each wheel spat, firing outside the propeller disc, and a free Browning in the rear cockpit.
Despite its appearance, the Lysander was aerodynamically advanced; it was equipped with automatic wing slats, 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. The Air Ministry requested two prototypes of the P.8.
The first prototype made its first taxiing test on 10 June 1936 and the first of two prototypes was flown initially on 15 June 1936 at Boscombe Down. The Air Ministry preferred the Lysander to the competing Bristol Type 148, quickly selecting the Westland aircraft for production, issuing a contract in September 1936. On 11 December 1936 Westland received a first order for 169 Lysanders. The first production aircraft appeared in March 1938, and were delivered to No. 16 squadron, at Old Sarum. This base was also the home of the School of Army Cooperation, another early recipient of the aircraft. Early aircraft were also sent to No. 5 Squadron in India for tropical trials. Like other British army air co-operation aircraft, it was given the name of a military leader; in this case, the Spartan General, Lysander.
The type began to enter service with No. 16 Squadron RAF in June 1938, and they were the first British aircraft to be based in France at the beginning of World War II and the last to see action in France during the evacuation from Dunkirk. Four Lysander squadrons moved to France during the phoney war period (Nos. 2, 4, 13 and 26). When the Germans attacked in May 1940, their armies were supported by swarms of Bf 109s. Allied fighters were overwhelmed. While the Fairey Battle was the most famous victim of this period, the four Lysander squadrons suffered very nearly as badly. Of 174 Lysanders sent to France, 88 were lost in aerial combat and 30 were destroyed on the ground. 120 crewmen were lost. Only 50 aircraft survived to return to Britain.
After the withdrawal from France Lysanders patrolled the coastal areas of south and east England at dawn and dusk as an anti-invasion reconnaissance measure. It was planned that in the event of an invasion the Lysanders would bomb and machine gun German troops on the beaches.
The majority of Lysander squadrons were actually formed after the fall of France, performing vital air-sea rescue duties. Its low speed allowed it to drop dinghies and supplies close to downed aircrew. The Lysander was also used for radar calibration and as target tugs. Of the (probably) 1,670 aircraft built, some 964 were Mk III aircraft, which first appeared in August 1940. The Lysander is most famous for its work with the Special Operations Executive. Two squadrons were formed to support the SOE, first No. 138 (Special Duties) squadron in August 1941 and then No. 161 (SD) squadron. These squadrons were given a mix of aircraft, including Hudsons, Whitleys and Halifaxes as well as the Lysander. The larger aircraft were used for parachute drops, either of agents or supplies. The aircraft's exceptional short-field performance made possible clandestine missions behind enemy lines that placed or recovered agents, particularly in occupied France. 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, and operations were often planned for moonless nights. 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, two could be carried in extreme discomfort. The Lysander proved to be a success in this role and continued to undertake such duties until the liberation of France. Between August 1941, when No. 138 squadron began Lysander operations, and the end of 1944 when the fighting had moved out of France, the Lysanders made at least 400 sorties. No. 161 squadron along took 293 people into France and retrieved 500. The 'Lizzie' was also used for glider towing at 5 Glider training School (GTS), Shobdon, Hereford.
The Lysander III was manufactured by National Steel Car Company at Malton (Toronto) under license from Westland Aircraft Corporation, England. In Canada, Lysander aircraft were chiefly used for target towing at training schools, limited navigational training, communications duty, search and rescue operations.
They also saw service in Burma, Egypt, Greece, India and Palestine.
1,372 Lysanders were built on a cottage industry basis in Britain. Parts were built by small firms and individuals and trucked to locations where they were assembled into components. These parts were taken to yet another location where they were assembled into an airplane. Canadian production of the Lysander began in Malton, Ontario in October 1938, with the first flight in August 1939. 225 were built there and another 104 Lysanders were shipped over from the U.K. Most of the world's few surviving Lysanders are ex-RCAF.
After the outbreak of the Winter War, 17 Lysander aircraft were ordered from England on 8 Jan, 1940. The first 9 were shipped to Gothenburg, Sweden, on 24 Feb. 1940. These were assembled at the Götaverken factory in Torslanda and were flown to Finland between 21 March and 3 May. The rest of the order were flown directly from England to Finland, with 2 arriving on 8 March. One of these was damaged near Stavanger, Norway.
A destroyed Ilmavoimat Westland Lysander LY-124 on the island of Buoy, close to Stavanger, Norway
The remaining Lysanders from the order left England in early March and arrived in Finland on the 15th of the same month. The Lysanders that entered service remained in use until 1945, although some were lost in action.
Ilmavoimat Westland Lysander in service in the Winter War
Engine: Bristol Mercury XX, 870 hp / 649kW
Wing Span: 50ft (15.24m)
Length: 30ft 6in (9.3m)
Height: 14ft 6in (4,42m)
Wing area: 14.15 sq.m / 152.31 sq ft
Empty weight: 1980 kg / 4365 lb
Max TO wt: 5920 lb (2685 kg)
Service ceiling: 6555 m / 21500 ft
Range: 522 nm / 600 miles (970 km)
Max level speed: 229 mph (369 kph).
Stall speed: under 60 mph (96 km/h)
Crew: 2 (Pilot and Observer)
Armament: 2 x .303in / 7.7mm Browning machine-guns in wheel fairings / 2 x .303in / 7.7mm Lewis guns for observer
Bombload: four 20 lb (9 kg) bombs under the rear fuselage / 500 lb (227 kg) of bombs on stub wings if fitted.