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Bell AH-1J SeaCobra - United States, 1970

Detailing the development and operational history of the Bell AH-1J SeaCobra Attack Helicopter.

 Entry last updated on 6/23/2017; Authored by Staff Writer; Content ¬©

  Bell AH-1J SeaCobra  
Picture of Bell AH-1J SeaCobra

The Bell AH-1 SeaCobra became a USMC derivative of the original U.S. Army AH-1 HueyCobra attack helicopter with changes implemented to suit the service.

In the latter part of the 1960s, the United States Marine Corps (USMC) had enough interest in the new U.S. Army attack helicopter - the single-engine, two-seat Bell AH-1 "HueyCobra" - that it commissioned for a more capable twin-engine version for maritime use. The Army's AH-1G model was selected as the starting point with the most prominent change being 2 x PT6T-3 turboshafts coupled to a combining transmission system for 1,800 total shaft horsepower. The engine pairing was collectively recognized as the "Turbo Twin-Pac" and formally designated the Pratt & Whitney Canada T400-CP-400). Additional changes lay in the chin armament which added a 20mm three-barreled Gatling-style cannon in a General Electric M97 turret while, by and large, the helicopter remained faithful to the original U.S. Army offering.

The U.S. Army's AH-1 itself held origins in the famous Bell UH-1 "Huey" series transport helicopter to which the AH-1 borrowed much from the earlier Bell product though extensively modified for the dedicated attack role. The attack helicopter was used as a replacement for the several make-shift gunships in service with American forces during the Vietnam War (1955-1975). The USMC variant of the AH-1G was specifically modified to include the dual-engine layout for increased survivability, particularly in the maritime (over-water) environment that the service's helicopters were expected to operate in. The branch ordered the AH-1J through a batch of 49 helicopters in 1968.

Picture of the Bell AH-1J SeaCobra
Picture of the Bell AH-1J SeaCobra

The powerplant drove a two-blade main rotor and two-blade tail rotor, the latter set to the starboard side of the tail fin and driven by a shaft housed in the tail boom. The fuselage retained the same slim head-on profile as the AH-1G and seated its crew of two in a standard tandem arrangement - the pilot at the rear and the weapons officer/co-pilot in front. Performance included a never-exceed-speed of 220 miles per hour, a maximum speed of 175 miles per hour, a range out to 560 miles, a service ceiling up to 10,500 feet, and a rate-of-climb of 1,090 feet per minute.

The USMC introduced their "SeaCobra" during September of 1970 and first actions centered around the American involvement in Vietnam in the coastal "hunter-killer" role. The helicopters were primarily armed through multi-shot rocket pods slung under their wingstubs which held two hardpoints apiece. The AH-1J SeaCobra was then offered in an export guise as the AH-1J "International" of which Iran became an operator of.

In 1974, a new version was ordered as the AH-1T "Improved SeaCobra". This model incorporated a new main rotor (from the Bell Model 214), upgraded gearbox, and lengthened fuselage and tailboom. The mark also included support for the Hughes BGM-71A TOW anti-tank missile but the weight added by the changes led to a decrease in performance. This forced Bell to offer 2 x General Electric T700-GE-401 turboshaft engines in 1980 and this, with other modifications including broadened weapons support (Hellfire ATGM, AIM-9 Sidewinder AAM) and day/night capabilities, led to the modernized AH-1W "SuperCobra" (the "Whiskey Cobra") mark. The AH-1W itself came to life as a re-engined AH-1T intended for sale to Iran.

The AH-1J was ultimately supplanted in USMC service by the AH-1W. Twin-engined Cobras saw combat service during the 1991 Gulf War in the tank-killing role as well as the American-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq during the 2000s. While the AH-1W remains the standard attack helicopter for the USMC, it is being replaced by the incoming AH-1Z "Viper" mark ("Zulu Cobra") as of this writing (2014) bringing with it improved avionics, uprated engines, and a four-blade main rotor among other changes.

Bell AH-1J SeaCobra Specifications

Service Year: 1970
Type: Attack Helicopter
National Origin: United States
Manufacturer(s): Bell Helicopter Textron - USA
Total Production: 251

Structural (Crew, Dimensions, Weights)

Operating Crew (Typical): 2
Overall Length: 53.35 feet (16.26 meters)
Overall Width: 43.96 feet (13.40 meters)
Overall Height: 13.71 feet (4.18 meters)

Weight (Empty): 6,614 lb (3,000 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 10,009 lb (4,540 kg)

Power / Performance (Engine Type, Top Speed)

Engine: 1 x Pratt & Whitney Canada T400-CP-400 (PT6T-3 "Twin-Pac", limited to 1,530shp) turboshaft engine developing 1,800 shaft horsepower to two-bladed main rotor and two-bladed tail rotor.

Maximum Speed: 152 knots (175 mph; 282 kph)
Maximum Range: 310 nautical miles (357 miles; 575 km)
Service Ceiling: 10,548 feet (3,215 meters; 2.00 miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 1,090 feet-per-minute (332 m/min)

Armament / Mission Payload

1 x 20mm M197 triple-barrel turret in General Electric powered chin turret.

OPTIONAL (Across four hardpoints under wingstubs):
2.75" Mk 40 / "Hydra" rocket pods (14-shot pods)
5" "Zuni" rocket pods (4-shot pods)
Hughes BGM-71A TOW Anti-Tank (AT) wire-guided missiles
AIM-9M Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missiles

Global Operators (Customers, Users)

Iran; United States

Model Variants

AH-1J "SeaCobra" - Base Series Designation; based on the U.S. Army AH-1G airframe; service entry in 1970.
AH-1J "International" - Export model of the AH-1J
AH-1T "Improved SeaCobra" - New main rotor; upgraded gearbox; lengthened fuselage and tailboom; BGM-71A TOW AT missile support.

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