Westland Lysander - Design and Development

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 cooperation role and what the army wanted, which was Tactical Reconnaisance and Artillery Reconnaisance capability - photographic reconnaisance 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. Survival in hostile airspace, a key requirement, seems to have been forgotten.

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 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. This a feature of British built aircraft only – Canadian built machines had a conventionally built up 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.

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