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Bell AH-1 Cobra

Attack helicopter

AH-1 Cobra

The initial production variant of the AH-1 entered service in 1968, but its variants still emerge

Bell AH-1G Cobra
Country of origin United States
Entered service 1968
Crew 2 men
Dimensions and weight
Length (rotors turning) 16.26 m
Main rotor diameter 13.41 m
Height 4.17 m
Weight (empty) 2.75 t
Weight (maximum take off) 4.3 t
Engines and performance
Engines 1 x Lycoming T-53-L-11 turboshafts
Engine power 1 100 shp
Maximum speed 277 km/h
Service ceiling 3.53 km
Range 574 km
Cannon 1-2 x 40-mm grenade launchers, or 2 x 7.62-mm miniguns
Missiles 8 x TOW anti-tank missiles
Other pods with 70-mm unguided rockets, cluster munitions, napalm bombs


   In 1965 Bell flew the prototype of the world's first dedicated attack helicopter. This machine was specially designed as an escort for troop carrying helicopters to meet a US Army requirement. The whole development was completed in very short terms. Eventually this machine was a turning point in the development of helicopter technology and its application. This armored gunship was a step forward from the previous transport helicopters, that carried only defensive weapons. It opened a new era in warfare.

   Based on the Bell Model 204 (UH-1D) utility helicopter, the Model 209 introduced a new slim fuselage with a fighter-type cockpit. The pilot sits high in the rear with a co-pilot/gunner lower in the front directing the fire of a wide range of weapons mounted on lateral stub wings or under the nose. The US Army liked this machine and the first order was placed in 1966. The new helicopter was designated as the AH-1G. Production commenced during the same year. The Cobra first saw service in 1968. Over 1 000 AH-1Gs were delivered in the first four years. This helicopter is often called the Huey Cobra. It saw extensive service in Vietnam. Furthermore it was one of the most valuable US weapons during that war.

   Even though the AH-1 is based on the UH-1 Iroquis, little in the appearance of the Cobra shows off its roots. Engine and transmission were borrowed from UH-1. The original version of the Cobra was powered by a single Lycoming T-53-L-11 turboshaft engine, developing 1 100 shp. This helicopter has a narrow fuselage and was specially designed to be as small target as possible to enemy ground fire. Due to the streamline shape and lighter weight, the original version had a top speed of nearly double that of the transport helicopters that it escorted. Also this gunship was extremely maneuverable. This helicopter had simple but tough landing skids, rather than complex retractable undercarriage.

   Under the nose there was a turret, that could mount miniguns, cannons, or grenade launchers. The turret could pivot to both sides of the helicopter, as well as up and down. The turret was controlled by the gunner, seated at the front. Also the pilot in the rear could fire the turret, if it was locked in the forward position. Early Vietnam models were armed with single or twin 40-mm automatic grenade launchers, or twin 7.62-mm miniguns. On second-generation models it was replaced by a harder-hitting 3-barrel rotary cannon.

   The Cobra could carry 998 - 1 360 kg of weapons on its stub wings. Early production helicopters were fitted with up to four pods with 70-mm unguided rockets. These were effective against unarmored targets and light vehicles. The helicopter could also carry BGM-71A TOW anti-tank guided missiles, as well as other weapons. During the Vietnam War, the AH-1 took over the role of assault helicopter and tank killer from the UH-1D. It was flying anti-armor mission and was often used to ambush enemy columns.

   The pilot sits in the rear seat, which is slightly elevated above the front seat of the co-pilot/gunner. The front seat also has a full set of flight controls. The cockpit is surrounded by a light armor protection.

   Soldiers on the ground contact the pilots via radio and coordinate the enemy positions.

   Initially in the mid and late 1960s the US Army planned to obtain a proposed Lockheed AH-56 Cheyenne attack helicopter. So only a relatively small number of the Huey Cobras was obtained. But when the Cheyenne program was cancelled Bell started work on improved models of the Cobra. Improved models were fitted with two engines. The US Army eventually retired its AH-1 helicopters in favor of the Boeing AH-64 Apache.

   Overall Bell produced more than 1 600 first generation, single-engined Cobras, including variants. Later models were progressively improved in the key areas of engine power, performance and armament. In the 1970s twin-engined versions replaced the first generation, single-engined Cobras. Both single- and twin-engined Bell Model 209s have been widely exported. This helicopter was license-produced in Japan by Fuji-Bell.




   AH-1G initial production variant.

   AH-1J Sea Cobra was the first twin-engine version, specially developed for the US Marine Corps (USMC). It was introduced in 1971. Marines used these helicopters for close-in fire support of landing forces during amphibious assaults and subsequent land operations. The AH-1J Sea Cobra has Pratt & Whitney T400 engines, developing 1 800 shp. But the power was limited to 1 530 shp due to helicopter's transmission. The second engine offers additional backup. It was important, considering that Marine helicopters fly long distances over the water. In case of failure or damage, the helicopter can limp home with one engine working. In 1974-1975 a batch of 202 of these helicopters with TOW missiles were supplied to Iran. The Fuji-Bell has produced the AH-1S for the Japan's Ground Self Defense Forces.

   AH-1Q was an interim US Army version with TOW missiles, produced by conversion from AH-1G airframes.

   AH-1S was a US Army version fitted with an 1 800-shp T53-703 engine. It was a production Cobra with TOW capability and other improvements. A number of older AH-1Q helicopters were modified to the AH-1S standard, while AH-1S model helicopters were themselves modified into a number of variants.

   AH-1P was produced by conversion of AH-1S helicopters with flat-plate canopies and other revisions.

   AH-1F is a upgraded version. In 1987 all surviving US Army Cobras were updated to a common AH-1F standard.

   AH-1T is an improved TOW-capable version of the AH-1J Sea Cobra.

   AH-1W Super Cobra is an USMC version. It was adopted in 1986 and is still in service. The Super Cobra was designed to fly and provide fire support in both day and night environment. Its avionics, engines and weapons were substantially upgraded. The AH-1W Super Cobra is powered by General Electric T700-GE-401 turboshaft engines, developing 1 725 shp each. It is armed with a three-barreled 20-mm cannon and carries 750 rounds of ammunition. The cannon fires at a rate of 675 rounds per minute. It can carry additional pods with miniguns on stub wings. The Super Cobra can carry Hellfire or TOW anti-tank guided missiles. It can actually carry both types of missiles on the same mission. Other weapons of this helicopter are pods with various unguided rockets, cluster munitions, napalm bombs, AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-92 Stinger air-to-air missiles, and AGM-122 Sidearm anti-radiation missiles. This gunship also has provision for AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missiles. This attack helicopter is fitted with a night targeting system, which includes a Forward-Looking Infra-Red (FLIR), low-light TV camera, laser rangefinder and an autotrack system. Fuel is contained within two fuselage fuel cells. Up to 4 more external tanks with fuel can be carried for extended range. During the Persian Gulf War a total of 48 AH-1W attack helicopters were used. These destroyed 97 tanks, 104 armored personnel carriers, 16 bunkers and 2 anti-aircraft sites. Not a single USMC helicopter was lost.

   AH-1Z Viper is a recent version. It made its first flight in 2000 and was adopted by the US Marine Corps in 2010. Full-scale production commenced in 2012. Currently it is one of the most powerful, capable and advanced attack helicopters in the world. This version features a four-bladed rotor, which reduced vibrations by up to 70 percent and significantly improved flying characteristics. Also there were many other changes. Most of the AH-1Z Vipers are upgraded form the previous AH-1W Super Cobras. About one third are newly-built helicopters. It is planned that the AH-1Z will serve well into the 21st century.


Video of the AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter

AH-1 Cobra

AH-1 Cobra

AH-1 Cobra

AH-1 Cobra

AH-1 Cobra

AH-1 Cobra

AH-1 Cobra

AH-1 Cobra

AH-1 Cobra

AH-1 Cobra

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