1/72 Lysander
KIT #: 1004-5/02053-0/PK-7
PRICE: $ Cheap
DECALS: various sources
REVIEWER: Brian Baker
NOTES:  

HISTORY

The Westland Lysander was designed in the mid thirties as a replacement for the classic Hawker Audax, a Hart variant, in Royal Air Force army cooperation squadrons. After the Air Ministry issued Specification A.39/34 for an Audax replacement,  the designer, W.E.W. Petter,  spent considerable time with Audax squadrons during 1935 in order to find out exactly what was needed in a replacement aircraft. The Audax had been the result of standardization policies during the early thirties, and was really unsuitable for the role envisioned for an army cooperation type.  The requirements included a good forward view, easy handling characteristics, and good low speed control, with the ability to operate out of small fields.  Petter’s design was a high wing monoplane powered by an 890 hp. Bristol Mercury radial engine, a popular engine at the time, and the type was what today would have been considered an STOL plane.   The first prototype was completed in 1936, and after extensive testing and some modifications, the Lysander I was ordered into production, with the first squadron deliveries in 1938. Some were initially issued to Army Cooperation Squadrons , and some planners initially thought that the type might be useful in the fighter role, but calmer heads soon prevailed,  and  by the outbreak of war in 1939, seven squadrons were operational on the type.  By this time, the Mk. II had appeared, powered by the Bristol Perseus XII engine of similar size but with a power rating of 905 hp.

High losses during the Battle of France resulted in the eventual replacement of the Lysander in Army Cooperation Squadrons with American built Tomahawks, but the type remained in use, finally finding a niche as a special purpose intruder, delivering agents into occupied Europe, and sometimes landing under the noses of the Nazis and picking up passengers to return to England. Other Lysanders were used in England and the Middle East for roles such as air-sea rescue and target towing as well as for general reconnaissance,  before they were replaced with better performing types.  A number of experiments were conducted using Lysanders, resulting in some interesting prototypes, including the Tandem Wing Lysander; the Pregnant Perch, which featured a ventral gun position;  and the Blackburn-Steiger High Lift Wing Lysander, which was strictly a test bed. In addition, some experimental  Lysanders  tested cannon armament, swiveling crosswind landing gear, and wing mounted air brakes. A mockup was even built testing the feasibility of a power turret version.

A number of Lysanders were exported to foreign countries before and during the war.  One reached France before the German invasion with more going to the Free French later on, 36 went to Turkey, 6 were purchased by Ireland, 8 went to Portugal, 20 were sold to Egypt, 9 were acquired by Finland, and 3 were  reputedly tested by the U.S. Army Air Forces.  In addition, others went to the South African Air Force.  A total of 225 Lysander Mk. II’s and Mk. III’s was built in Canada, but most of these stayed in Canada for the duration of the war.  A few survived the war, at least one is flying in the US, and several others are displayed in museums throughout the world.

THE KITS

The first 1/72 scale Lysander was the old Frog Penguin kit, which is now a collector’s item.  In the fifties, Airfix released their first Lysander issue, and this, being one of their first kits, was not a very good model.  I have the engine and prop assembly in a spares box, and it is pretty bad. (It is illustrated with one of the photos of the Airfix model.) It was on a par with their first Gloster Gladiator.  In 1973, Lesney-Matchbox released PK-7, a Mk. II Lysander. Later, in 1974, Airfix retooled their  model into a more competitive kit.  Strangely, during the same year, Frog introduced what might have been an upgrade of the Penguin kit in the form of a Mk. I or Mk. III.  So all three currently available Lysander kits date back to 1973 and 1974.  These are the ones we have to choose from, and we have the basis for a decent model of this unusual and very interesting airplane. 

I decided to build all three versions simultaneously to compare and evaluate them.  I had built both the Matchbox and Frog kits within the past ten years, and recall building the original Airfix kit in the early sixties, but only the engine and prop survive. I built them “out-of-the-box” and did not add anything, except that I didn’t use kit decals, as none of those I had survived 35 years of storage. 

Keep in mind that there was very little external difference between the various Marks of the Lysander. The Mk. I and MK. III, having the Bristol Mercury engine,  had a cowling with small fairings for the rocker arms on the engine, while the Bristol Perseus powered Mk. II had a smooth cowling with no fairings.  The intruder version had a ladder attached to the left side of the fuselage, and a large fuel  tank mounted between the landing gear.  Most Mk. III’s had a twin gun installation in the rear cockpit, but none of the kits provides this feature.  All of the kits are roughly similar in outline accuracy, and all of them look like a Lysander when completed, so the question here is mainly one of degree rather than black and white differences.  However, I will do my best to point out the advantages and disadvantages of each type. I will not discuss the dissection of several kits to make one “good one”, as some of us are prone to do at times. Discussion is given in the order in which I encountered the problems during assembly.  By the way, on all kits, I did the cockpit, assembled the fuselage, attached the horizontal stabilizers, and then mounted the landing gear.  Next, I detailed the engine, masked the canopy windows, and painted the airframe. After that was done, I attached the wings and the wing struts. Decals were added, and final detailing was done.

There are some articles on the Lysander available, but I used as my main source the old Profile Publication Number 159, which gives a pretty complete account of the development and service life of this aircraft.  There are some color drawings, and a few interior photos which I found useful. In addition, Squadron and Aircam produced booklets on the Finnish Air Force, and these provide some information on these aircraft in Finnish service.  There must also be some sources on line. 

CONSTRUCTION

The Airfix Lysander Mk. I or Mk. III  Kit  (Cat. 01004-5, Kit. No. 84, Copyright  1973)

Instructions come on one large sheet of paper in the boxed version, or a smaller set of drawings on the bagged issue.  Three views are provided, along with decals, for two aircraft, a Mk. II of No. 225 Squadron, or School of Army Cooperation,  in England, 1940; and  Mk. III “Spy Plane”, V9428, MA-C, in England, about 1942 or 1943.  

The Airfix kit follows the old Harleyford drawings to the letter, so it can be assumed to be accurate in outline.  It is probably supposed to be a  Mk. I or Mk. III, but the cowling does not have the little bumps that this variant had.  The surface detail is somewhat heavy on the wings, and the panel  and wing rib lines  are somewhat  overdone. The airfoil is strange looking, reminding me of a laminar flow airfoil, with a flatter upper surface than it should have.  The canopy comes in five pieces, but they all fit together perfectly.  The interior is very basic, and consists of two bulkheads to which rudimentary seats are attached. These bulkheads do not appear in photos of the real airplane. This model will take a lot of serious detailing to bring it up to acceptable standards. There is no fuel tank in between the seats, and no structure inside bracing the wing roots. The canopy isn’t all that transparent anyway, so a lot of this cannot be seen. The fuel tank is the correct shape, but has only one attachment point, and I couldn’t find a photo that showed any detail.

Surface detailing is fair to good, with overdone wing ribbing and raised rivets. Whether this aircraft had flush rivets is open to conjecture, but I doubt that it had them.  The cowling seems to be tapered a little more than it should be, but this might be because the cowl flaps are cast in the open position, with huge grooves in between them. The exhaust stack is hopeless, and I would advise sanding it off and adding one from a Frog or other kit, or else scratchbuilding one. I would suggest attaching the landing gear struts before attempting to fit the wings.   Wing attachment is odd, with small tabs molded onto one of the clear canopy sections.  The wings fit over them, but the holes need to be trimmed so that they fit.  Once the wings are attached, the struts need to be glued in position. There are holes for the strut ends, but they aren’t very secure. The strut positions are essential for aligning the wings at the proper dihedral angle.  Mine turned out a little flat, but I put up with that. 

The engine detail is rather generic, with cylinders cast in place. They need some detailing to look realistic. The prop is acceptable, and the spinner merely glues on to the front of the hub. Quite a bit of filling was required on the tailplanes, as the gaps were too large to ignore.  I didn’t use the little winglets on the wheel pants, but these would fit on easily.  The slots on the wheel pants have to be filled in if you don’t use them. There are holes for the landing lights in the front of the wheel pants, the only kit to have them.  They go through the leading edge of the wheel cover, and you can see the tire inside.  Small disks are provided to make the lenses, but I used Crystal Clear instead, as I did to represent the small windows just ahead of the tailplanes. The wheels look like they are a little thin, with the tires too small and narrow.  They look like the old high pressure tires of the 1930’s. They fit into the wheel pants with small axles, but the fit is snug.  The radio antenna mast is too short and stubby, but a locating hole is provided.  The pitot tube is there, but it does not look like those in photos of the actual airplane. The boarding ladder is OK, but it is one rung too long and needs to be trimmed off. The small bombs look pretty nice, but I didn’t use them on the Mk. III version that I built. 

The Airfix Lysander is a typical 1970’s kit. Heavy detail, coupled with marginal assembly engineering provide a kit that requires a lot of skill to salvage it into a decent model. It is worth building, but there are better kits available.

The Frog Lysander Mk. I and Mk. III.  (Catalog No. 02053-0  Copyright  1974)

The instructions come on a large sheet of newsprint, fully 19 ˝ inches by 12 ˝ inches, with drawings and instructions on both sides.  A painting guide is provided on the box bottom, with decals for two aircraft: a  Mk. I of No. 2 Army Cooperation Squadron, Le Plessiel, France, 1939 (L4705, KO-X); and a Mk. III “Spy Plane” of No. 357 Special Duties Squadron, 14th army, S.E.A.C., Burma, about 1944.  Although my set of decals Frog decals was intact, they were not useable, and since I had planned to use the Frog decals on the Airfix kit, I had to settle for a different airplane. I did a Finnish Air Force Mk. 1 with the Frog kit.

The Frog kit is basically accurate in outline, and is cast in soft, light grey plastic.  Wing ribs and  stringer lines are shown by raised lines on the model, and the engine has the raised rocker arm covers common to the Mk. I and MK. III with the Mercury engine. The fuselage has seats fore and aft, with the fuel tank in between, all on a cockpit floor. A stick and instrument panel are included, along with two small decks for the rear gun.  No fuselage attachment struts are provided inside the cockpit. The landing gear struts must be joined together, and holes must be drilled in the fronts for the landing lights.  Be sure to line up the wheels, as there can be alignment problems, and the stubs on the fuselage aren’t much help. There is a small tube which is supposed to attach to the rear fuselage. I don’t know what this is for, but it appears  in only a couple of photos I’ve seen, and it doesn’t look quite like the ones in the photos. It may be a fuel drain.   Small bomb clusters are provided for the “winglets” and for the rear fuselage rack, which is not included.  The winglets glue directly onto the wheel pants, with no stubs. This might make for difficult alignment problems, but if you don’t use them, you don’t have any holes to fill in. I would suggest gluing the landing gear struts in position before attempting to attach the wings. I would also suggest painting and masking the entire airframe before attaching the wings, unless your airplane is going to be primarily one color.

The engine is a little better than the Airfix kit, but still needs serious detailing. The cowling should probably taper a little, as it doesn’t narrow until the collector ring starts. The cowling, with the bumps, is correct for both Mk. I and Mk. III. The prop is nicely done, but almost impossible to install if you want it to turn, as it mounts on the end of the crankshaft, and if you use too much glue, it will weld the crankshaft to the engine, creating a stationary prop.  I trimmed mine off at the rear, glued the forward end to the prop, and just stuck it in from the front. I also added the little tripod gunsight on top of the forward part of the cowling. This is not included on any of the kits.

The canopy is one piece and semi transparent. You can almost see through it. The wings attach to slots in the upper portion of the canopy, and are pretty secure once glued in place.  After installing each wing, be sure to attach the wing struts securely to the gear strut and the underside of the wing. The problem here is that the rear strut is too short, and is designed to fit about a foot or two in scale inside where it should be. I don’t know how to correct this without cutting off the entire rear strut and replacing it with a longer one. It is not noticeable unless you are looking at the plane from directly underneath, but it is wrong. A LF antenna needs to be added above the left wing root, and a pitot tube should be scratchbuilt for the left wing position.

All in all, this is a pretty good kit, and if you want to take the time and effort to make the corrections, an excellent Lysander model can result.  I did mine as a Lysander Mk. I of Tlelv. 16 of the Finnish Air Force. 

Matchbox  Lysander Mk. II  (Kit. No. PK-7, Copyright 1973)

 The instructions come on a small three-fold sheet, with an aircraft history and general model building instructions on one side, and exploded assembly drawings on the other.  Painting instructions are on the box bottom, although the colors appear to be wrong, showing the middle stone and dark earth schemes associated with the Desert Air Force, rather than the correct dark earth and dark green colors that should have been shown.  Decals are provided for two aircraft, L4805, UG-B, of No. 16 squadron, France, 1940; and P1670, LX-L, of No. 225 Squadron, Odiham, UK, on Oct. 3, 1939.  The decals were excellent when new, but my 30 plus year old decals were no longer useable. I opted for a Canadian Mk. II, No. 418, which is illustrated in the Profile. I wanted to do this one because it dispenses with the wheel covers on the sides of the wheel pants, making some surgery  on the wheel pants necessary.

This kit has a good outline, but the surface detail is a little overdone, typical of Matchbox kits of this era. The usual Matchbox “plowed furrows” appear on the wings and fuselage, but wing rib detail is more subtle and realistically done. There is no rear window near the tailplane, but this is easily cut out and filled with Crystal Clear or white glue. One problem with this kit is that the plastic was extremely brittle. ( I got out another Matchbox Lysander and found that the plastic was just as brittle, whereas that of a Gladiator kit next to it  was not.) This made trimming the wheel covers a little touchy, as the plastic split several times,  requiring gluing and filling. As with all other Lysander kits, the landing gear should be attached and lined up before the wings can be attached.

 The engine is probably the best of all three kits, and the exhaust stack is also very good.  There is a lot of detail in the cowling, and it won’t take much extra effort to make this an excellent model.  The landing gear is well done, although the landing lights must be drilled out and filled with Crystal Clear.  There is no radio mast or pitot tube.  There are no cowling bumps, which is correct for the Perseus-powered Mk. II.  I added some interior details, including a longer floor, control stick, and an instrument panel.  I also added the little tripod gunsight on the nose. There is minimal cockpit detail, but the kit does contain the central struts to which the wing roots are attached to.  There is no fuel tank, however, and not much cockpit detail. The wings aligned perfectly, and the struts snapped into place, giving the correct dihedral angle.

In my opinion, the Matchbox Lysander was the best kit of the lot, although it still has its issues.  But it looks like a Lysander, and that, I believe, is the issue. This was the most fun to build, and I think the detail was superior to the other kits.

CONCLUSIONS

All three of these kits can be used to build an acceptable Lysander in 1/72 scale.  Each kit has its limitations, and I supposed that if you were going to superdetail  a “Lizzie’ in this scale, you could combine parts.  But to do more than one, any of them would be OK. My personal preference is the Matchbox kit, with the Frog a close second, but the Airfix kit cannot be entirely ruled out, as it too has  potential.  Just be sure that you have your references handy, and that you use the proper kit for the version you are modeling.  Try one.

Brian Baker

January 2009

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