In 1934 the Air Ministry issued Specification A.39/34 to fulfil a requirement for an modern single-engined, two-seat, monoplane aircraft type specifically designed for operations with the Army Co-Operation squadrons of the R.A.F. Design proposals to fulfil the requirements of this Specification were submitted by Westland Aircraft Ltd., which were accepted by the Air Ministry and two prototypes were ordered in 1935. Designated P.8, the design and construction of the first prototype (K6127) was completed in the same year by the company. Powered by an 840 hp Bristol Mercury IX nine cylinder radial engine, this prototype flew for the first time on June 15, 1936 and underwent a programme of handling and performance trials with the A. & A.E.E. from November 1936 to February 1937. The second prototype (K6128) flew for the first time on December 11, 1936.
Named Lysander, an initial production batch of 144 aircraft (L4673-L4816), was ordered by the Air Ministry in September 1936. Designated Lysander I, the first production aircraft (L4637) flew for the first time in the Spring of 1938, powered by an 890 hp Mercury XII engine, and underwent service evaluation and testing with the A & A.E.E. in May. Deliveries of the first Lysander Is commenced in the following month and a total of 169 were delivered to the R.A.F. between 1938 and 1940.
The Mercury engine was also required for other combat aircraft in large-scale production for the R.A.F. and this engine was replaced by the Bristol Perseus sleeve valve radial engine in subsequent production aircraft, which were designated Lysander IIs. Powered by a 905 hp Perseus XII engine, production of the Lysander II commenced in 1938, but was terminated in June 1940 after 447 had been constructed and the majority of these aircraft were delivered to foreign air forces. The Perseus engine had not been fully developed by the Bristol Aeroplane Co. and was not as reliable as the Mercury engine. Production of the Lysander III commenced in 1940, which was powered by an 870 hp Mercury XX or XXX engine, with deliveries to the R.A.F. commencing in the same year.
Designated Lysander T.T.IIIA, production of a target tug variant commenced in 1941, which was fitted with a tripod attachment under the fuselage centre section for the cable attached to the drogue or sleeve target. An electrically driven winch was installed under the centre of the cockpit, above the main fuel tank, for winding and unwinding the cable. Re-designated Lysander T.T.I and T.T.II, approximately forty early production aircraft were also converted to target tugs. When production of the aircraft ceased in January 1942, a total of 1650 had been constructed, which included 225 Lysander IIs and IIIs constructed under licence by the National Steel Car Corporation Ltd. in Canada.
In 1938 the Department of Defence ordered six Lysander IIs to fulfil a requirement by the Irish Army Air Corps for a modern aircraft type, which could be used for army co-operation duties. Overall cost of the six Lysander IIs was £37,500, which included pilot conversion courses on the aircraft and maintenance courses on the airframe for Air Corps technicians by Westland Aircraft. Technicians also underwent courses on the Perseus engine by the Bristol Aeroplane Co. and on the aircraft’s propellers by the de Havilland Aircraft Co, which was also included in the overall cost. The 1939/40 Defence Estimates provided for the purchase of the Lysanders and the embargo imposed by the British Government on the delivery of military aircraft to the Air Corps was not applied to these aircraft.
On July 15, 1939 the six Lysander IIs, which were not equipped with “radio sets”, bomb-sights or aerial cameras, were delivered by Air Corps pilots from the Westland factory to Baldonnel Aerodrome. Initially operated by the Air Corps Training Schools (as nos. 61 to 66), the Lysanders entered service with No. 1 Fighter Squadron in August 1939. The Lysanders had the “standard camouflage finish as for the aeroplanes supplied to the R.A.F.” and were the last aircraft delivered to the Air Corps before the outbreak of the Second World War. On August 14, 1939 a formation of fifteen Air Corps aircraft, which included the six Lysanders, flew from Baldonnel Aerodrome to Rineanna Aerodrome and remained at this airfield for four days. During this period there was a number of demonstration flights by the Lysanders over several towns in south-west Ireland.
The F.24 aerial cameras for the Lysanders were delivered in September 1939 and the radio equipment was installed in these aircraft by January 1940, as there were reports of problems with the “send/receive” switches on some of the radios in that month. The bombsights for the Lysanders were delivered in March 1940. Flying restrictions were also imposed for a short period, due to problems with the propeller mechanisms, undercarriage and battery charging equipment.
Operating from various airfields throughout the State, including Fermoy, the Lysanders participated in a number of army co-operation exercises over the next three years. During this period the Lysanders also appeared in a number of photographs and newsreels about the Defence Forces, which were issued by the Irish Government for propaganda purposes. Although operated by ‘B’ Flight, No. 1 Fighter Squadron, the Lysanders were incapable of intercepting or forcing down the majority of intruding aircraft that violated Irish airspace throughout the “Emergency”. On July 4, 1941, one of the Lysanders (no. 62) was badly damaged in an accident at Ballybunion, Co. Kerry, and had to be “written-off”. Nine days later, during army co-operation exercises with the Defence Forces at Edgeworthstown, Co. Longford, another Lysander (no. 65) was “written-off” following a “heavy landing” in adverse weather conditions.
Combined divisional manoeuvres in the south of Ireland were conducted by the Defence Forces in the autumn of 1942, with air support for the two participating divisions provided by Air Corps detachments, designated No. 1 Air Component and No. 2 Air Component. From a temporary airfield known as “Rathduff”, near Golden, Co. Tipperary, the Lysanders were operated by No. 2 Air Component, in support of the division known as “Red Force”. The Lysanders and other aircraft were used for observation, reconnaissance, liaison and other missions during these exercises. On October 2, 1942, during a training flight from Baldonnel Aerodrome to Cork City, a Lysander (no. 64) was “written-off” after crash-landing at Castleknock airfield, Co. Dublin, following engine failure.
In 1943 the remaining three Lysanders (nos. 61, 63 and 66) in service with No. 1 Fighter Squadron were replaced by Miles Master Is and Hurricane Is. In the same year due to an increase in the number of air-to-air gunnery and ground-to-air firing training exercises the Air Corps had a requirement for more target tugs, To fulfil this requirement, two Lysanders (nos. 61 and 66) were delivered in September 1944 to Short Brothers and Harland Ltd., Belfast, for the installation of equipment to convert these aircraft to target-tugs. Over the next two years the Lysander target tugs, in an overall silver finish, were operated by the Advanced Training Flight, Air Corps Flying Training Schools, towing drogue type targets over the Air Firing Range, Gormanston Military Camp, during firing exercises by the Defence Forces.
The two Lysander target tugs were “withdrawn from use” in October 1946 and December 1946 respectively, following the delivery of two Miles Martinet T.T.1 target tugs in the same year. The one Lysander (no. 63) remaining in service with the Air Corps was “written-off” in a crash on April 15, 1947. For about twenty years the fuselage of a Lysander (no. 61) was displayed on the forecourt of a garage at Crookstown, Co. Kildare before being scrapped.
The Lysanders were delivered in the R.A.F. disruptive colour scheme of that period, dark earth and dark green, on the upper surfaces of the wings, tailplane and fuselage, with the undersides painted light grey. The two-colour Celtic boss was displayed on both sides of the mid-fuselage section and the upper surfaces of both wings, with green, white and orange stripes, positioned chordwise, displayed on the undersides of the wings. The Air Corps serial number, in black, was displayed on both sides of the rear fuselage section, just in front of the tailplane, and the crest of No. 1 Fighter Squadron was displayed on the front fuselage below the cockpit. In 1944, following the conversion to target tugs, the two Lysanders (nos. 61 and 66) had an overall silver finish, but the Celtic boss, tri-coloured stripes and serial numbers were displayed on the original positions on these aircraft.
WESTLAND LYSANDER II.
61 Deld to Baldonnel Aerodrome, 15.7.39. To No. 1 Fighter Sqdn, August 1939. Converted to target tug, September 1944. To A.T.F., Air Corps Flying Training Schools. “Withdrawn from use”, December 1946.
62 Deld to Baldonnel Aerodrome, 15.7.39. To No. 1 Fighter Sqdn, August 1939. “Damaged beyond repair”, Ballybunion, Co. Kerry, 4.7.41. “Written-off”.
63 Deld to Baldonnel Aerodrome, 15.7.39. To No. 1 Fighter Sqdn, August 1939. “Written-off” in crash, 15.4.47.
64 Deld to Baldonnel Aerodrome, 15.7.39. To No. 1 Fighter Sqdn, August 1939. “Written-off” in crash, Castleknock, Co. Dublin, 2.10.42.
65 Deld to Baldonnel Aerodrome, 15.7.39. To No. 1 Fighter Sqdn, August 1939. “Written-off” in crash, Edgeworthstown, Co. Longford,13.7.41.
66 Deld to Baldonnel Aerodrome, 15.7.39. To No. 1 Fighter Sqdn, August 1939. Converted to target tug, September 1944. To A.T.F., Air Corps Flying Training Schools. “Withdrawn from use”, October 1946.