The AH-1Z Viper is the Marine Corps’ primary rotor-wing ground attack aircraft. The AH-1Z attack helicopter provides rotary wing close air support, anti-armor, armed escort, armed visual reconnaissance and fire support coordination capabilities under day night, and adverse weather conditions.
The AH-1Z Vipers is fielded in Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadrons, or HMLAs. Detachments from the HMLAs are deployed as part of Marine Expeditionary Units to support ship-based amphibious exercises and operations.
The Bell AH-1Z Viper is the ultimate form of the original Vietnam-era AH-1 HueyCobra attack helicopter.
The AH-1Z “Viper” is the latest and most potent form of the Vietnam War-era AH-1 Cobra helicopter debuted in the late 1960s. During development of the single-engine AH-1 for the United States Army, the United States Marine Corps USMC expressed interest in a twin-engine arrangement of the same attack platform which gave rise to the AH-1J “SeaCobra” offshoot introduced in 1971. The line ultimately begat an entire family of twin-engine attack platforms all related to the original AH-1 with over 1,270 SeaCobras, and the related SuperCobra, produced.
The Viper form represents an extension of the AH-1W SuperCobra line for the USMC, intending to keep the product a viable battlefield component into the next several decades. The AH-1Z includes a composite four-blade main rotor and four-blade tail rotor assemblies (bearingless) driven by 2 x General Electric T700 series turboshaft engines.
Performance is enhanced as a result and the added power provides a higher operating weight than in previous Cobra iterations. Many of its onboard systems have been updated and some all-new equipment has been fitted for improved battlefield survivability and situational awareness. The cockpits are now dominated by a pair of Rockwell Collins LCDs and allows for the helicopter to be piloted from either seat.
All pertinent mission parameters are showcased through the color displays. A digital 3D map allows for improved navigation. One of the key additions to the Cobra line is use of Helmet Mounted Displays (HMDs) manufactured by BAe Systems (as the “Striker”). The helmets are also used to showcase mission parameters, flight data, and the like as well as being linked to the onboard weapons system for target cueing. The wingstubs have been extended and offer all-modern support for supported USN/USMC ordnance including guided and precision weaponry.
First flight of the AH-1W was on December 8th, 2000 and three prototypes were evaluated into 2003. The USMC marked some 180 AH-1Ws for conversion to the newer AH-1Z standard with the initial production models received in 2005. Some 28 examples have been delivered to date (2014) with the final airframes expected prior to 2019.
During 2008, production was modified to include the final 40 helicopters as “new build” models (and not conversions of existing airframes) while and an add-on order for the USMC followed in September of that year to bring its total procurement to 189.
As finalized, the AH-1Z is outfitted with 2 x General Electric T700-GE-401C turboshaft engines developing 1,800 shaft horsepower each. Performance numbers include a maximum speed of 255 miles per hour, a range out to 425 miles, a service ceiling of over 20,000 feet, and a rate-of-climb of 2,800 feet per minute.
The helicopter continues the slim profile appearance established by the original AH-1 Cobra of the Vietnam War years. The tandem-seat cockpit seats the pilot in the rear with the weapons officer at front. The tail rotor unit is set to the portside unlike the starboard-side facing of the original Cobra and the follow-up SuperCobra. The undercarriage is of the fixed skid arrangement as in the orignal.
The wingstubs feature three hardpoints apiece (six total) and can mount the AGM-114 Hellfire anti-tank missile, the AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missile, and the 2.75″ Hydra 70 rocket pod in a seven- or nineteen-shot count. The standard armament remains the 20mm M197 three-barreled Gatling-style cannon in the A/A49E powered chin turret. Fire control is assisted through the Lockheed Martin/Northrop Grumman AN/APG78 “Longbow” radar system.
The AH-1Z “Viper” was formally introduced during 2010. For a short time, the helicopter was under consideration by the government of South Korea as its next standard attack helicopter until the decision was reached in 2013 to pursue the AH-64E Apache