On Saturday 16 June the Museum received its latest acquisition, a full-size replica of a Westland Lysander Mk III (Special Duties), the short take-off and landing aircraft used by the RAF’s No 161 Squadron for Special Operations Executive (SOE) pick-up operations from RAF Tangmere during moonlight nights in the Second World War. It was described by pilots as “a beautiful little aircraft to fly, very manoeuvrable and ideal for getting in and out of small landing grounds”. For SD work, a Westland sub-contractor, Fairfield Aviation, was awarded the contract to modify 40 Lysanders into dedicated aircraft for SOE pick-up operations. All armament was removed, the normal variable pitch propeller was replaced by a constant speed three bladed version and a 150 gallon fuel tank was added under the fuselage which increased the aircraft’s range to about 1000 miles with an endurance of 10 hours flying. The rear cockpit canopy was replaced with a one-piece unit that slid rearwards on rails to allow quick entry and exit and a ladder was permanently fitted to the port side to allow ease of access for the agents. A rearward-facing two-seater bench for the passengers (known as ‘Joes’ to the pilots) was installed with a locker underneath and a shelf was built at the rear of the compartment which could also serve as a seat.
In 2015 this full-size replica of a Mk III (SD) Lysander was built by Gate Guards UK Ltd. in Cornwall for the film ‘Allied’, directed by Robert Zemeck and starring Brad Pitt as a Canadian Intelligence Officer and Marion Cotillard as a double agent who fall in love during a mission to assassinate the German Ambassador in Casablanca. In the film Pitt’s character flies a Lysander to France to determine the truth as to whether Cotillard’s character is a double agent or not.
After receiving a report from our engineers who looked at the replica, the Museum’s Trustees agreed to purchase it with the aid of a contribution from the Museum’s Society of Friends. During this summer the aircraft will be remarked in the No 161 Squadron markings of Jimmy ‘Mac’ McCairns’ aircraft (MA-E). In 1943 he flew 25 successful pick-up operations from RAF Tangmere for which he was awarded three Distinguished Flying Crosses.
Photos: Brian Blackman and John Chivers