Originally designed as a two seat Army Co-operation aircraft, the prototype Westland Lysander first flew on June 15, 1936. At the outbreak of the Second World War Lysanders served in France on artillery spotting and reconnaissance duties, suffering near catastrophic losses at the hands of the Luftwaffe. Later replaced in the Army Co-operation role by the Curtiss Tomahawk, Lysanders continued to give excellent service on air-sea rescue and target towing duties.
However, this same aircraft would later become an icon of Britain’s special operations and espionage activity in France between 1941–1944.
Although somewhat bizarre in appearance, the features of the Lysander made it perfect for covert activity, its high lift wing, combining pressure operated leading edge slats, enabled it to land on short and impoverished runways – or often the case a field lit by a few torches. It was these characteristics which made the aircraft ideally suited for carrying out special duties such as landing and collecting agents deep behind enemy lines.
The Lysander in the possession of the RAF Museum, R9125, is the last surviving example of the Mk.III Special Duties (S.D.) variant and was originally constructed in 1940. Displayed in London from the Museum’s opening in 1972, it was moved to Cosford in 2017 for restoration and conservation work to be undertaken. During this process, one major task performed by our volunteers was removal of the fabric covering from the wing under surfaces, thereby permitting an inspection of the wing interior structure.
It was them who discovered that some of the wooden wing ribs had broken in addition to control cables that were found disconnected. A process of repairing the ribs by the volunteers then begun, while trying save as much of the original material as possible.
The correct routing of the cables also needed to be identified, once the volunteers were able to this the system was made complete once again. In the Lysander, instead of the cables feeding straight into the bottom of the cockpit like most aircraft from that period, they instead were fed through into struts supporting the wings, through the undercarriage and back up into the fuselage. Therefore, it was essential that the volunteers did their research around this aircraft – so they could complete this task successfully.
The Lysander wings feature trailing edge flaps and moveable leading-edge slats (both interconnected via linkages and torque tubes) powered by a hydraulic jack which extends and retracts both sets of surfaces simultaneously. The larger outboard slats are free to move under prevailing air loads and are the first to deploy if the airspeed reduces. Following many hours of understanding how this complex aircraft operated, the volunteers were able make the slats operational once again too.
To date the fuselage and flying control surfaces have been covered in Irish Linen with dope being applied to obtain the tautness required for this process; all are waiting their application of final surface finish. Currently, the first of the two wings are in the Paint Shop having the Irish Linen process applied; this work is carried out by the MBCC (Michael Beetham Conservation Centre) Surface Finish Technician.
However, the volunteers still have work to do on the undercarriage and engine cowlings before the project concludes. Once conservation work has been completed the Lysander will be displayed in its original Special Duties colour scheme (black under surfaces with grey and green camouflaged top surfaces) as worn during its wartime service with 161 Squadron.
If it was not for the amazing skills and talents of our volunteers and staff, projects to restore aircraft like this would not be possible. It is hoped the Lysander will be back on display soon and you can stayed updated on any progress via the Museum’s Twitter and Facebook pages.