Armed helicopters came into widespread use in Vietnam in the early Sixties. Limitations of the modified armed utility helicopters used led to the specially configured attack helicopter.

Bell Helicopter (now Bell Helicopter Textron) had already evolved the first attack helicopter design, based on the use of UH-1 Huey dynamics (rotors, drives, engine) with a new fuselage. Bell also built a company-sponsored, scaled-down prototype using H-13/Model 47 series components, its Model 207 Sioux Scout.

While the Army went forward with its sophisticated AAFSS (advanced aerial fire support system) program to provide an attack helicopter, Bell proceeded with another company-sponsored prototype, Model 209, using the Huey dynamics and an airframe similar to the initial design. The 209 first flew in September 1965. The urgent need for greater armed helicopter performance in Vietnam and the success of the 209 led to Army orders for prototypes and production models of the 209 as interim attack helicopters, pending production of the AAFSS (which, finally, was never to occur). Carried over from the 209 were the slim fuselage with tandem cockpits (gunner in front of pilot), the Lycoming T-53 engine, stub wings with store stations and the under nose turret. Its retractable skid landing gear was replaced by a fixed gear. As the AH-1G, the Huey Cobra went into combat in September 1967.

The Marines also operated armed Hueys in Vietnam, and ordered their own version of the Cobra in May 1968. Featuring the Pratt and Whitney Twinpac T400 engine (two 900-hp turboshaft engines coupled together) giving an overall increase in installed power, the AH-1J Sea Cobra included a new nose turret gun, the three barrel XM-197 20mm and other improvements. While development and production of the first 49 ordered were under way, the Marines obtained 38 AH-1Gs from the Army. After initial training of Marines by the Army, Marine Huey Cobras first became operational in April 1969 with VMO-2 in Vietnam. In December 1969, the AH-1Gs were transferred to HML-367. After flight tests beginning that same month and subsequent BIS trials, the first AH-1Js joined them in February 1971, entering combat the following month. AH-1Js, including those of HMA-369, participated in SEAsia operations until final withdrawal and continued as the Marine's attack helicopter afterwards, a total of 67 being delivered. The Marine AH-1Gs became the reserve helicopter attack squadron's aircraft.

With increasing demands for higher performance, particularly greater load-carrying capability in high temperature conditions, Bell developed improved dynamic components for the Huey series. Application of these components, which included a larger diameter rotor, led to the 309 attack helo in the early Seventies. This allowed an increased payload, providing more combat capability. The subsequent Marine-ordered version of the King Cobra was designated the AH-1T. In addition to the modifications for improved combat effectiveness, major efforts were made to incorporate the lessons of the Cobra experience in achieving greater reliability and maintainability. With the TOW missile system added to its weapons, the AH-1T gave Marines a ground attack capability far beyond that first envisioned by their predecessors who took the first Marine Huey Cobras into combat in the late 1960s.

An upgrade to the AT-1T, the AH-1W was received in 1986. The AH-1W Super Cobra provides full night-fighting capability with the Night Targeting System (NTS). The Super Cobra is armed with a 20mm turret gun, TOW, Hellfire, Sidewinder, Sidearm missiles, and 5 inch or 2.75 inch rockets. Future upgraded and modifications for the AH-1W are underway or in the planning stages.

Technical data is for AH-1S. Photos are of AH-1W (twin engine), AH-1S, AH1G, and AH-1Z.

Nation: USA
Manufacturer: Bell Helicopter Co.
Type: Attack Helicopter
Year: 1965 (first AH-1G)
Power Plant: Two GE-T700-GE-401 turbine engines (1690 SHP Each)
Rotor Diameter: 44 ft
Fuselage Length: 44 ft 7 in
Overall Length: 52 ft 11.5 in
Height: 13 ft 6 in
Empty Weight: 6,598 lb
Max Takeoff Weight: 14,750 lbs
Max Speed: 160 kts
Cruise Speed: 120-130 KIAS
Ceiling: 12,200 ft
Range: 315 miles (sea level, 8% reserve)
Time on Station: 2+00, 2+30 With 77 gal. Aux Tank
Crew: 2, Pilot in Rear Seat, Co-pilot/Gunner in Front Seat
  • 8 Precision Guided Missiles (PGM's), either Hellfires, TOW's, or a combination of the two, on two PGM stations
  • 2.75" or 5.00" Folding fin aerial rockets (FFAR)
  • Sidearm Anti-Radiation Missile
  • Sidewinder air-to-air, heat-seaking missile (takes up one PGM station)
  • 20mm Cannon capable of firing semi-armor piercing rounds at a rate of 650 rounds per minute, 750 round magazine.
  • Laser Designator and Range Finder
    • Capable of lasing under three different codes, which can be set inside the cockpit both both PGMs and Laser Guided Bombs.
    • Also capable to get a 10-digit mapgrid by lasing a target.
  • Internal GPS/INS
  • ARC-210 Radios with Havquick and SINCGARS
  • Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR), TV Camera, and direct view optics
  • ALE-39, ALQ-144(IR Jammer), APR-39, and APR-44
  • Video Camera Recorder (VCR)

The AH-1W was designed for several specific missions:
  1. Offensive Air Support (OAS)
    1. Deep Air Support (DAS)
    2. Close Air Support (CAS)
    3. Strike Coordination and Reconnaissance (SCAR)
  2. Escort
    1. Surface Escort
    2. Assault Escort
  3. Forward Air Controller (Airborne)
    1. Call for fire
  4. Armed Reconnaissance
Information and top photo courtesy of Captain Garrett "Rainman" Hoffman, HMM-266, MCAS New River, North Carolina.

Tom Putnam, a fellow rotorhead (and member of VHPA), submitted the following information to me...
At least some of the information you give is not correct for the AH-1S (of which there were a number of different models: AH-1S(Mod), AH-1S(Prod), AH-1S(ECAS) and AH-1S(Modernized)) but appear to refer to one of the USMC models since it refers to twin GE engines. None of the S models ever had either GE engines or twin engines of either type. The only twin-engined Snakes were in the USMC and I don't believe they ever used the S model in any of it's forms, only the J, W, and Z models, as far as I remember. But I certainly may be wrong on that as I flew for the Army and not the Marines.

One thing on the AH-1S(Mod) version is that it was different from the other S models. The S(Mod) was a converted Q model, which was a converted G model and had the rounded canopy while the Prod, ECAS, and Modernized all had flat-plate canopies. If I remember correctly, all Q models were field conversions while the others were converted at the Bell plant in Fort Worth, Texas. I may be wrong on that, however.

There is one other model, the AH-1R, of which not much is widely known, due in part to the fact that there were only 2 were ever produced. From what I remember, they were used as test beds for an upgraded power train for the Cobra. Again going strictly on memory, I believe these were converted from G models at Fort Hood, Texas and may never have left that post. I suspect, however, that they were probably sent to the Bell plant at Fort Worth soon after the conversions to the Prod model were started.

I don't know if any of the Army models ever progressed to having either a GPS or an INS system, although I would doubt it. I suspect that while the USMC models may have had them, the only thing I believe any of the S models had was the AN/ASN-128 Doppler Nav system. The wiring was in the a/c for a VOR system, but I only remember seeing one or possibly two a/c that actually had a VOR receiver in them. Mostly it was just ADF, but we always had high hopes for maybe, one day... <sigh>

As an additional bit of information, the AH-1S(Modernized) were also later referred to as the AH-1F (for Fully Modernized). I don't know if that ever was "official" or not, but I do remember seeing that nomenclature used in the biweekly safety reports that came out of Fort Rucker. It's the only instance I've ever come across or heard about of a model number regressing to an earlier, skipped letter! <g> Of course, the Snake is also the only a/c I've ever heard of that progressed all the way up the alphabet to have a Z model also, so that may be another "record" that it has!"

Last Cobra Flight in Hawaii and Active Army
Press Release from Major Edward S. Loomis, Media Relations Officer, 25th ID & U.S. Army Hawaii Telephone 808-655-8729, Fax 808-655-9290, DSN 455-XXXX

SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii - The last flight by AH-1F Cobra attack helicopters by an active duty Army unit was Monday March 15, 1999, from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.

This final mission by crews assigned to the 1st Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment (Attack), 25th Infantry Division (Light), will begin and end at a unit ceremony at Wheeler Army Airfield, pass over the USS Missouri and the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, the Leeward coast and Kole Kole Pass. Unit members begin turn-in of their aircraft the following day to prepare for the battalion's draw of new OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters.

First developed in 1965 and fielded in 1967, the Cobra was the U.S. Army's first attack helicopter designed for that mission, and has deployed for nearly every U.S. combat operation from Vietnam to today. The Cobra was the first U.S. military helicopter specifically designed for ground attack, and is equipped with armament that includes a 20-millimeter cannon, tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided (TOW) missiles, and 2.75-inch rockets. Its two-soldier crew consists of a pilot and co-pilot/gunner.

The Tropic Lightning Division's remaining Cobras will be replaced by OH-58D Kiowa Warriors, aircraft equipped with improved optical sights, a laser designator, Hellfire missiles, a .50-caliber machine gun and 2.75-inch rockets. 1st Battalion will field Kiowa Warriors on the Mainland and return to Oahu in May 2000.

The formation Monday will consist of eight Cobras, four Kiowas, and one UH-1H Iroquois ("Huey").

Click on a picture below to download a wallpaper-sized picture.
AH1-10 is actually freehand art by Michael Leahy at popasmoke.com.

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