Bill Ison, the Chief Flying Instructor at Cambridge Flying Group where I learned to fly Tiger Moths, started his combat service as a Lysander rear gunner in the Western Desert during the Second World War - “looking out for cannon-armed Messerschmitts (including Hans-Joachim Marseille who operated in the area) armed with a Lewis pop-gun and sitting on a fuel tank!”.
The Lysander was designed as an army co-operation and observation aeroplane. Slow flight is a prerequisite of the observation role, and the ability to get into short strips is desirable for a communications aircraft. It looks “soldier proof” - robust and sturdy for the job in hand. It has good performance, good take-off and landing charactersitics and reasonably long range. Some of the airframe and engine handling qualities are noteworthy in caution terms. The field of view from the cockpit is outstanding and all of the Lysander’s qualities meet the requirements for a Special Operations aircraft, with the ability to fly into and out of unprepared strips, day or night.
Much is made of the special agents ops of the Lysander which, whilst important, overshadow its multi-role performance in a number of vital duties icluding communications and Army co-operation, air-sea rescue (dropping dinghies to downed aircrew), anti-invasion patrols off of the English coast and a myriad of others. From the Commonwealth air forces perspective, the design of the Lysander was ideal for its role as a battlefield observation and communications aircraft. I await with interest the first post-flight report from Vintage Wings “British types” manager Robert Erdos when he takes the Lizzie up and also Mike Potter’s impressions from his first sorties in the aeroplane. It will make very interesting reading.
As we know from our knowledge of various aircraft types in aviation history, different countries find different ways of designing aircraft for the roles that they need to fulfil. You only have to look at the Messerschmitt 109, Spitfire or P-40 Kittyhawk to see three nations’ very different contemporary designs for a fighter. I have not flown a Lysander but have flown a number of sorties in what is perceived as its German equivalent, the strange looking Feiseler Storch. The superb view from the cockpit, legendary slow flight and very different handling qualities are just about the only commonality between the “Lizzie” and the Storch despite their similar combat roles.
The Lysander - visually so different , yet very similar to the Storch in performance. This period photo of a
Canadian-built Lizzie shows her in reflective repose dressed in the same bright yellow and black “Oxydol” paint scheme that presently adorns the Vintage Wings Lysander. Photo: Tucker Harris collection via Paul Huether.
Incredible looking with its long, spindly undercarriage, a wingspan at 48 ft (as wide as the Fairey Swordfish), full-span slats, long fuselage and large “greenhouse” cabin, the Fieseler Storch (appropriately “Stork”) was one of the most unusual aircraft of World War II. Its slow flying ability is the greatest cause of interest whenever pilots and enthusiasts see the aeroplane. With only 20 flying in the world today it is a rare beast indeed, but not nearly as rare as the Lysander. When the Vintage Wings and Canadian Warplane Heritage aircraft are flown there will be just four airworthy Lysanders in the world.
Originally designed in 1935, the Storch, like the Lysander, served as an army-cooperation and reconnaissance platform, and additionally as an air ambulance. It was operated by the Luftwaffe in many theatres including the Arctic, the Western Desert, the Eastern Front and Europe. Famously used by Field Marshall Rommel, it was also operated on the “other side” by Field Marshall Montgomery. The most famous operations using the Storch was the rescue in the Appennine mountains of the Italian dictator Mussolini and a flight by the famous German pilot Hanna Reitsch landing in the centre of Berlin in the last few days of the war to try to get through to Hitler in his bunker.
Fieseler initially built the Storch in Germany but the need to produce the Focke-Wulf 190 at the plant and the occupation of France enabled production to be moved to Morane-Saulnier in France.
The example I have flown a number of times is Duxford-based Hotel-Zulu which was built in France in 1942 as Werke.Nummer.1827 and was originally fitted with an Argus inverted V8 engine. After its wartime service it was used by the French Armée de l'Air where it was designated as an MS 500, later re-engined with a Jacobs “Shaky Jake” radial to become an MS 505 Criquet. The original Argus engine was deemed unreliable for Hotel-Zulu’s time in L’Armée de l’Aire service.
Prior to flying the Storch, I prepared in my usual manner, “hangar flying” in the cockpit and reading as many flight tests as I could find including “Testing for Combat” (Airlife) by the record-breaking test pilot Captain Eric “Winkle” Brown. Vintage Wings “Brit types” manager and pilot Robert Erdos and I recently met with Captain Brown to discuss the operation of the Vintage Wings “Lizzie”.
The Storch cockpit is entered by climbing up two steps on the undercarriage strut and through the large gull wing door on the starboard side which can be left open in flight if required. I had thought it was high off the ground until I climbed into the Lysander cockpit for the first time – the Lizzie really does feel like climbing up by the North-West mountain route! The pilot’s position is comfortable , like sitting in a large cab. It has a quite magnificent view including downwards through angled clear vision panels and is the best I have seen apart from the the cockpit of the Dragon Rapide – or the Lysander. There is a roomy second seat in tandem which is big enough for your passenger to carry a coffee flask and sandwiches for the transit flights – which take an age.
Starting and pre-takeoff
Chocks in, climb in. Mags off, Fuel D + G (Droit et Gauche or Right and Left). Mixture Rich, Carb Heat – cold. Battery – ON, Generator Warning Light – ON, 24 volts indicating. The brakes are typical WWII German foot brakes - like standing on a rocking ski boot. Chocks in will save the brakes – which fade - and the feet – as it takes a good deal of time to warm up the engine.
Throttle – open. Ground crew turns the propeller for three revolutions while I prime in the cockpit. Fuel pump – ON. Prop - Clear. Press starter, turn 4 blades and Magnetos, cough and splutter and away it goes. Run up at 800-900 rpm Oil pressure between 4.12 – 6.2 Hpz, Fuel Pump - ON to test but as this can over pressurise, it is checked and then goes to OFF. Instruments; turn and bank and Generator ON.
With Oil Temperature up to 27º C and Cylinder Head Temperature up to 110º C the engine is ready for power checks. With caution in mind, the stick only goes slightly back. You cannot run up with stick fully back or it will bend the fuselage. 1800 rpm, Generator light out and check mags for max drop of 90 rpm. Slow run at 600 rpm. Call up to taxi – although often you can just taxi forward and take off from wherever you are. This is a Storch after all.
Trim ............ +1.5
Mags on both
Fuel D + G, (Droit et Gauche or Right and Left) Pump – check pressure
Flaps 15 degrees. Look above your head at the Flap Indicator in the main spar
Gauges Oil Temp 27º – 60º C, Oil Pressure 4.12 – 6.2 Hpz, CHT 110º C
Hatches. On nice warm day the gullwing door can stay up
The cockpit of the Fieseler Storch offers pilots exceptional forward visibility. Photo: via Howard Cook
As you will have noticed throughout the checks the instrumentation is very French from its L’Armée de l’air days, Morane Saulnier it may be – but this is a Storch as you are about to find out.
Take off – Wow!
Throttle smoothly to max rpm of 2200, the long undercarriage legs extend and we are off – ridiculous! With a 20 knot headwind I have lifted off in 50 yards – to get back to Imperial measures for a moment - and that with just 15º of flap. It is like going up in a lift and you can be at 1000 ft at the airfield boundary. The climb is very impressive at the “normal” climb speed of 100 kph. It is possible to climb steeper at 90 kph which angle wise is very impressive.
Winding the yellow handle connected via a bicycle chain to retract the flaps, the aeroplane tends to sink and you must be careful of the nose up change in trim and lower the nose to keep the speed at 100 kph.
Storch on (very) short take off. Hotel-Zulu's Argus engine was replaced with a Jacobs "Shaky Jake" during
L'Armée de l'air service. The scheme is JG54 Grunherz ("Green Hearts"). The Green heart on Hotel Zulu is signed by 60-victory Luftwaffe Experten Hans-Ekkehard Bob who has flown in this aeroplane in recent years.
Photo; Jason Phelan
Into the cruise
Levelling off into the cruise at 2000 rpm which gives a cruising speed of 120 kph where it is more speed stable. When fuel checks are required it is a matter of looking out at the two glass tubes sticking vertically down below the wing. Cruising in the Storch is a very loud experience but visibility-wise it is a very pleasant one. On a summer’s day with the door open, it is comfortable and visibility is even better, almost helicopteresque.
The speed – or lack of it – is another matter. This is very different from the Lysander. The Lysander can be flown with good speed and agility thanks to its 860 hp Mercury. This is very different from the Storch which, plodding along with 300 hp running up front, has its design entirely focussed on slow speed handling whereas the Lysander is more multi-role capable.
To the casual observer, the Storch looks like a bigger version of a light aeroplane but it is a heavy and tiring aeroplane to fly. It does inspire great confidence in that looking for fields in case of an engine failure you feel that you can land almost anywhere – and you probably can!
The Storch cruises by showing her spindly undercart. Photo: Jason Phelan
General handling and (very) slow flight
Moving on into turns, the Storch is comfortable to manoeuvre at speeds over 100 kph. For a display routine I prefer to lower the flaps 15º and fly at 90 kph which enables the aeroplane to be kept tight for the manoeuvring necessary for a display routine and ready to move into the slow – in this aeroplane’s case VERY slow – phase of the display.
Bringing the power back to idle and gliding the aeroplane, there is a definite lack of elevator authority and from this you can gauge that gliding in to land is something best avoided.
The ultra slow phase of flight in the Storch should be with a touch of power back on and when practiced for the first time should be carried out at a safe height. Winding the flaps down by the yellow handle and “bike chain” to 40º, the ailerons droop with the flaps beyond 20º. There is a limit speed 125 kph (67 knots). As the flaps go down, the nose needs to come down to maintain a level attitude with 80 kph (43 knots) as a good manoeuvring speed! The tailplane incidence can be changed to give nose-up or nose-down trim.
The Storch allegedly claimed a number of pilots’ lives because the stall can result in extreme attitudes in roll Once the wings roll, they could get through to inverted with insufficient control effectiveness to recover. The famous aviation author and pilot Alan Bramson gave it an Oscar for being most unpleasant from the handling point of view!
It is, therefore, a matter of testing the slow flight capabilities rather than full stalling, and flying as slow as you feel comfortable with. It feels as if you are sitting on top of a knitting needle, unstable in all axes. If, at any point, you feel that the aeroplane is going to fall off the knitting needle, it can be “caught” with smooth applications of power. With a touch of power I was flying with 40º of flap at 67 kph – that is 36 knots. Into a stiff breeze in a display, the Storch can demonstrate its legendary ability to “hover”. Not many aeroplanes can do this! It looks easy but it takes careful handing and feels like a plate balanced on a knitting needle.
Approach and landing
As you have noticed from earlier comments, the Storch fuselage is fragile and getting the landing wrong can bend the fuselage. Side slipping should not be carried out as it too will put undue strain on the fuselage and particularly the fin and rudder. After the experience of slow flight you realise that a power on approach is required.
The view on the approach, as in all phases of flight, is outstanding. 1000 rpm and 15º - 20º of flap is all that is required and with 100 kph for the initial approach. With 40º of flap the Storch is susceptible to the slightest gust and 15º - 20º will suffice in most conditions - after all we are not landing in the streets of Berlin or on an Italian mountainside! The approach is adjusted with power and must be such that there is some power on to keep elevator authority in the round-out.
Howard Cook tells us the Storch’s view forward is exceptional, but a picture is worth a 1,000 words! Here a
Luftwaffe pilot cruises a length of road - possibly on the Russian Steppe as a long line of Russian POWs trudges toward Germany.
With the Storch it is possible to adjust the approach quite easily with power and by manual selection of flap; the slats are fixed and not automatic like the Lizzie. Another feature of the Storch that can catch you unawares is the oleo compression on the main undercarriage. They extend by two feet at takeoff – and therefore on landing they will compress by two feet. Thus landing is a balance of allowing for any crosswind with the big 48 ft wings, caution with the fragile fuselage, and a touch of power for control authority and handling that makes it feel that you are flying even slower than you already are! Landing into wind is preferable for the shortest landing performance and you can almost land crossways on wide runways if the wind is 90º across it.
The approach is very different in the Lysander and my comments are based on those of my friends who have been lucky enough to fly what is now a very rare aeroplane. It has a number of characteristics that I will briefly mention here although a full feature on this amazing aeroplane will, I am sure, come on to these web pages after Robert Erdos and Mike Potter start flying the Vintage Wings aeroplane. The Lizzie’s Mercury engine is sensitive to power changes at low speed with the potential to rich cut. Increases in power will allow its automatic slats and flaps to retract, lowering drag and further increasing speed. Also unlike the Storch, the Lysander is extremely robust with a very strong wishbone-shaped arm that passes through the bottom of the fuselage.
The Storch landing is 80 kph (50 mph) over the numbers and then you fly the wheels on which then sees the oleos compress and you have arrived on three points although your pitch attitude has remained constant throughout the approach and landing. As you touch down cut the throttle – and stop inside 100 yards without even trying. Any swing can be dealt with a burst of power. In 2005, I landed with half flap at Sandown Airfield with a headwind of 20 knots – and was down and stopped in 50 yards with little effort and without using the brakes – and had to spend a long time taxiing as a result! For a display the Storch can demonstrate the short landing, stop, power on, and go for the shortest fixed-wing stop and go you will ever see.
After engine stop, it’s just a matter of putting the aeroplane back into the hangar where, with its 48 foot wingspan, it requires an inordinate amount of space.
At first glance, the Storch may appear easy to fly in that it flies slowly, but this is deceptive. It is very heavy and you have to keep it in balance at all times - but it is like flying no other aeroplane. Even today the Storch is a unique machine, as close as a fixed-wing pilot can get to flying a helicopter. Though it was successful in its planned role for the Luftwaffe, it did not have the same multi-role capability that the Lysander had as a result of its superior speed. I look forward to seeing the Vintage Wings Lizzie regularly taking to the skies over Ottawa and Gatineau.
Specifications: Fi 156 Storch
Engine: One 240 hp Argus 8-cylinder inverted-V piston engine
G-BPHZ has been re-engined with a 300 hp 7-cylinder Jacobs radial
Maximum all up weight: 1590 kg:
Wing Span: 48 ft. 4in.
Length: 32 ft. 5.75 in.
Height: 10 ft.
VNE 185 kph
Vfe (40º) 125 kph
Cruising Speed: 2000 rpm 120 kph
Ceiling: 15,090 ft.
Range: 239 miles
Take off run 10 knot wind 50 yards
Landing distance from 50 ft (10 knot wind) 100 yards
Armament: One rear-firing 7.92 mm (0.31 inch) MG15 machine gun