While the helicopter was already being developed into a viable battlefield contributor during the days of World War 2 (1939-1945), it was not until the Korean War (1950-1953) that its service was entrenched. The Vietnam War (1955-1975) only served to further its use to which the aerial transport was now evolved to become an "air cavalry" platform to ferry combat-ready infantry to-and-from hotspots as needed. However, as the helicopters grew into roles that saw it operate closer and closer to enemy positions (and thus exposed to enemy fire), it was seen fit to arm these types with applicable weaponry and this initiative produced the helicopter "gunship". The iconic American helicopter of the Vietnam War was the Bell UH-1 "Huey" series which still sees service today (2014).
The armed UH-1 was only an interim solution for it lacked appropriate crew protection and the battlefield survivability required. This pressed American helicopter makers into developing more dedicated gunship concepts which led to Bell Helicopters to pursue the D-255 "Iroquois Scout" in 1962. The design incorporated a 40mm chin-mounted automatic grenade launcher, ventral 20mm cannon, and wing-mounted rocket/missile launchers. Its crew of two sat in tandem, helping to promote the slimmest of frontal profiles to make for a harder target to hit head on by ground-based fire. The United States Army liked what it saw and awarded a contract for further development late in the year. An early testbed for the concept was born from a modified Bell Model 47 which became the Model 207 in its finalized form. First flight was in July of 1963.
While a promising venture, the Model 207 was not the soundest of solutions for the growing U.S. Army need. The situation in Vietnam was becoming ever more perilous with a greater American military commitment seen as unavoidable. To further a more final solution, the Army pushed forth the "Advanced Aerial Fire Support System" (AAFSS) as an open competition for its gunship helicopter requirement - the product now being termed an "attack helicopter". One of the key participants of this program became Lockheed and its work begat the infamous AH-56 "Cheyenne" - the company's sole attempt at a helicopter design.
While work slowly progressed on the AH-56, the U.S. Army was still in need of an interim solution for the ongoing war and eventually entertained several possible products from the usual suspects - Bell, Boeing-Vertol, Kaman, Piasecki, and Sikorsky. Bell had furthered along a new attack helicopter concept as a private venture born from the Model 207 and incorporating as many mechanical components of its successful UH-1B/C "Iroquois" series as possible to produce the all-new Model 209. First flight of this product came on September 7th, 1965. In April of 1966, this submission won out against its competitors as it was formally selected for production by the Army under the designation of AH-1G "HueyCobra". As it was considered a direct part of the existing UH-1 line ("H-1"), the HueyCobra was born through the "G" model designation and not the expected "A".
The incoming AH-1G models were outfitted with a single Lycoming T53-L-13 series turboshaft engine of 1,100 shaft horsepower. This provided a maximum speed of 170 miles per hour with a range out to 360 miles, a service ceiling of 11,400 feet, and a rate-of-climb of 1,230 feet per minute. Armament centered on the M28 chin turret mounting 2 x 7.62mm Miniguns or 2 x 40mm M129 grenade launchers (or a mix of the two). Wingstubs supported 7- or 19-shot 2.75" rocket pods or 7.62mm Minigun pods or the XM195 20mm cannon pod. Anti-tank missile support was not added until future versions were developed.
The AH-1G was delivered from June 1967 onwards and were pressed into service during the Vietnam War by 1968. Their battlefield roles went beyond simply escorting air cavalry birds for they also offered Close-Air Support (CAS) service through a mix of weaponry options. They could loiter over contested regions and attack exposed enemy infantry or targets of opportunity as needed. Within time, more organized outings utilized scout helicopters ahead of the main Cobra attack force to help reveal enemy positions. By the end of the war, over 1,000 HueyCobras were built and an anti-tank version was in the works for 1972 - producing the "AH-1Q" mark. About 300 or so Cobras were lost in the fighting of Vietnam to both enemy fire and accident.
The United States Marine Corps, in need of a similar attack helicopter system, took interest in the Cobra and evaluated the AH-1G model for its own purposes. This led to a 1968 order for 49 helicopters in the twin-engine AH-1J "SeaCobra" guise - the primary difference being installation of the Pratt & Whitney Canada T400-WV-402 turboshaft engine of 1,800shp - two PT6 turboshafts mated through a single transmission system. The chin turret (M197) housed a Gatling-style 20mm cannon unlike the combination turrets of the U.S. Army mounts. The design eventually spawned the much improved AH-1W SuperCobra line.
While the Lockheed AH-56 Cheyenne program sputtered and eventually fell to naught, the Bell HueyCobra made for itself a lasting legacy with its showing in the Vietnam conflict. It became a staple of U.S. Army and USMC service for decades to come and was further pressed in action during the notable American military commitments of the 1980s (Grenade, Panama) and the 1990s (Operation Desert Storm, Haiti, Somalia). The loss of the AH-56 was lessened some by the arrival of the Hughes AH-64 "Apache" series - a truly dedicated anti-armor solution of the Cold War - and this line helped to reduce the Army reliance on the AH-1 moving forwards. The USMC still favored their AH-1s and chose to consistently upgraded the type to meet the demands of the modern battlefield (the aforementioned AH-1W "SuperCobra" and the modern AH-1Z "Viper" were such products). Ex-Army AH-1s were passed on to American allies around the world while some were retained by U.S. governmental firefighting services.
The effectiveness of the AH-1 in a war environment helped to push its value as an export product and a select group ultimately took the type into inventory - Bahrain, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Pakistan, South Korea, Spain (as the "Z.14"), Thailand, and Turkey. Israeli AH-1s were eventually replaced by AH-64s in time (and served with the Israeli Air Force) while Japanese AH-1S models and manufactured under license through Fuji Heavy Industries from 1984 to 2000.
In all, there proved few variants after the original Bell 209 prototype and the initial AH-1G production models. AH-1Q of 1973 became an interim anti-tank model supporting the TOW anti-tank missile system with improved cockpit weapons equipment. Some 92 AH-1G models were converted to the Q standard. The AH-1S mark was the AH-1Q with a new T53-L-703 series turboshaft engine of 1,800 shaft horsepower and improved "hot and high" performance deemed a weak point in earlier marks. The AH-1S mark instituted a series of progressing changes that ultimately yielded some four subvariants all its own - AH-1(MC), AH-1S(MOD), AH-1P, and AH-1E. QAH-1S became a target drone conversion airframe. AH-1P introduced a glass cockpit, improved low-altitude flight, and composite-based rotor assemblies. The AH-1E brought along a much improved armaments system which included the M197 20mm three-barreled chin cannon. AH-1F were modernized Cobras with the additions of the P- and E-models as well as introduction of a laser rangefinder, IR jammer equipment, more digital dependency, and a cockpit Head-Up Display (HUD). Total HueyCobra/Cobra production numbered 1,116 examples.
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June 2018 - Northrop Grumman engineers are working with the Royal Jordanian Air Force to flight test their new, modernized AH-1F Cobra helicopter fleet. These carry systems originally developed for the newer AH-1Z "Viper" variant.
Bell Helicopter Textron - USA Manufacturer(s)
Bahrain; Israel; Japan; Jordan; Pakistan; South Korea; Spain; Thailand; Turkey; United States Operators
Design utilizes a single primary wing mainplane; this represents the most popular modern mainplane arrangement.
Mainplanes are mounted along the midway point of the sides of the fuselage.
The planform involves use of basic, straight mainplane members.
1 x Lycoming T53-L-13 turboshaft engine developing 1,100 shaft horsepower while driving a two-blade main rotor and two-blade tail rotor. Propulsion
M28 Turret: 2 x 7.62mm Miniguns OR 2 x 40mm M129 grenade launcher or mix of both.
Four wingstub hardpoints for the carrying of 7- or 19-shot 2.75" rocket pods, 7.62mm M18 Minigun pods OR 20mm cannon pods (XM195). Later support for TOW anti-tank missiles. Armament can also be mixed.
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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