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Bell AH-1 Cobra / HueyCobra (Bell 209) Attack Helicopter (1967)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 2/26/2014

The storied Bell AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter rose to prominence in the American military when the Lockheed AH-56 Cheyenne endeavor bowed out.

Based on the private venture Bell 209 helicopter, the AH-1 Cobra series of attack helicopter remains a primary weapons delivery platform for the United States military and its worldwide allies. The type owes its origins to the 1950s when Bell undertook experimentation with armed rotary-wing airframes such as the AH-47 "Sioux". The Sioux ultimately proved underpowered for the role yet still served to lay the foundation for a more refined design still to come.

Development on what would become the "AH-1" in 1965, mating the successful UH-1B/C "Huey" powerplant, transmission and rotor systems to the all-new AH-1 design. The fuselage featured tandem seating with the pilot in the rear, elevated cockpit and the weapons officer in the front cockpit. Controls for both piloting and weapons were present in each cockpit placement in the event one crew or position became incapacitated. Wing stubs were added to carry the primary weapons load and alleviate stress on the main rotor assembly during flight. The wing stubs were cleared to launch unguided rockets (by way of pods), air-to-surface and air-to-air munitions as needed (the latter quality to appear in later production variants). The initial prototype was flown just six months after the design was completed.

With delays mounting and costs rising during the development of what was to become the primary attack helicopter of the United States Army - the Lockheed AH-56 "Cheyenne" coupled with the ongoing American involvement in the Vietnam War, the AH-1 "Cobra" was eventually pressed into service with initial orders totaling 209 Cobra AH-1G models. The Lockheed AH-56 Cheyenne was eventually cancelled after only prototype forms had been completed. Its place as the heavy attack helicopter component of the US Army would be taken by the Hughes AH-64 "Apache" still to come.

For the modern American military, the Cobra is utilized as an anti-armor solution and served in the "air cavalry" in support of forward-operating ground elements. It is also fielded as an armed reconnaissance platform and support vehicle which can attack individual or clustered enemy targets through rockets, missiles and its three-barreled 20mm chin-mounted powered cannon. Aerial threats can be countered by arming the type with homing/seeking missiles, broadening the tactical value of the Cobra considerably. Cobras can also provide on-call fire support for trapped friendlies and security for convoys or special forces operations.

The AH-1Q model introduced the ability to fire wing-mounted TOW anti-tank missiles. Future versions improved the avionics suite, radar functionality and targeting systems as well as newer and more powerful engines. The array of weaponry fitted to a single Cobra was broadened as well, running the gamut of HE (High-Explosive) rockets, cannon pods, minigun pods and the aforementioned missiles. The wing stubs of the AH-1W "SuperCobra" of the US Marine Corps, an all-modern version of the Vietnam-era mount, is cleared to fire the Hughes TOW anti-tank missile, AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missile, the Hellfire anti-armor missile, the AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missile, the "Sidearm" anti-radiation (anti-radar) missile and Hydra 70 rockets (in multiple shot pods). There are four underwing hardpoints in all along with optional wingtip mounts. The standard main armament of the AH-1 Cobra family is its three-barrel 20mm Gatling-type cannon system fitted to a powered turret under the nose of the aircraft.

The available mix of weaponry entirely depends on the operating country in question as well as the specific Cobra model being used.

Beyond its storied service in the Vietnam War, the AH-1 Cobra has gone on to prove itself in several conflicts since, including the Persian Gulf War of 1991 and the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 where its missiles pounded enemy armor and its cannon annihilated unprotected ground forces. In both wars, the aircraft had exhibited a high survivability rate and tactical flexibility to keep the system in the American inventory for some time still. Various modernization programs have extended the helicopter's service life, allowing it to remain a frontline multi-role solution.

The AH-1 was set to be replaced by the highly-touted, stealth-minded RAH-66 "Comanche" light attack helicopter until the program was abruptly cancelled in early 2004. Initial versions of the Cobra were powered by a single turbine engine, though the aforementioned SuperCobra variant features dual turboshaft engines for much increased power.

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Specifications for the
Bell AH-1 Cobra / HueyCobra (Bell 209)
Attack Helicopter

Focus Model: Bell AH-1F Cobra
Country of Origin: United States
Manufacturer: Bell Helicopter Textron - USA
Initial Year of Service: 1967
Production: 1,116

Crew: 2

Length: 44.59 ft (13.59 m)
Width: 44.00 ft (13.41 m)
Height: 13.42ft (4.09 m)
Weight (Empty): 6,598 lb (2,993 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 9,998 lb (4,535 kg)

Powerplant: 1 x Textron Lycoming T53-L-703 turboshaft generating 1,800 shaft horsepower while driving a two-blade main rotor and two-blade tail rotor.

Maximum Speed: 141 mph (227kmh; 123 kts)
Maximum Range: 315 miles (507km)
Service Ceiling: 12,198 ft (3,718 m; 2.3 miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 1,620 feet per minute (494 m/min)

Hardpoints: 4
Armament Suite:
1 x 20mm three-barrel cannon in powered chin turret.

1 x 7.62mm minigun in powered chin turret
1 x 7.62mm minigun with 1 x 40mm automatic grenade launcher in powered chin turret.
8 x TOW anti-tank missiles (quad launchers on outboard wingstub hardpoints.
4 x 2.75" 7-shot rocket pods OR grouped tube launchers.
4 x 2.75" 19-shot rocket pods
4 x 7.62mm machine gun pods
2 x 20mm XM-35 Gatling cannon

Hellfire anti-tank missiles

Model 209 - Bell Company Model Designation

AH-1G "HueyCobra" - Initial Production Model Designation based on the Bell 209 prototype; fitted with 1 x Avco Lycoming T53-13 turboshaft engine.

JAH-1G - Developmental Model for testing of Hellfire anti-tank missile and Gatling cannon.

TH-1G -Two-Seat Trainer

Z.14 - Spanish Export Model based on the AH-1G

YAH-1Q - Developmental Model fitted with 2 x M56 TOW anti-tank missile launchers and XM26 Telescopic Sight; eight conversions completed.

AH-1Q - M65 TOW/Cobra missile support; M65 Telescopic Sight Unit; M37 Reflex Sight.

YAH-1R - Sans TOW missile support; fitted with 1 x T53-L-703 turboshaft engine.

YAH-1S - Upgraded Model; TOW missile support

AH-1S "Improved" / "MOD" - Based on the AH-1Q; fitted with 1 x T53-L-703 turboshaft engine of 1,800 shaft horsepower.

AH-1P "Production" / "PROD" - Based on the AH-1S; modernized Cobra; composite rotor systems; revise cockpits; flat canopy glass; 100 examples delivered.

AH-1E "Upgunned" / "ECAS" - Based on the AH-1S; fitted with Enhanced Cobra Armament Systems; M197 20mm Gatling cannon; M147 Rocket Management System for 70mm rocket support; 98 examples delivered.

AH-1F "Modernized" / "MC" - Based on the AH-1G production model; fitted with laser range finder, IR jammer, IR suppression and M143 Air Data Subsystem

QAH-1S - Target Drone based on the AH-1S production model

Model 249 - Technology Demonstrator; fitted with four-bladed main rotor system; improved turboshaft engine; Hellfire anti-tank missile support.

Model 309 "KingCobra" - Prototype Development Airframe; one example fitted with 1 x Lycoming T-55-L-7C turboshaft engine; two examples produced.

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