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Bell AH-1 SuperCobra

Attack Helicopter

United States | 1971

"The Bell AH-1 SuperCobra attack helicopter represents an evolved, twin-engine variant of the original Vietnam War-era AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter line."

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 10/03/2023 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site; No A.I. was used in the generation of this content.
The AH-1 "SuperCobra" is a further evolution of the original Vietnam War-era AH-1 "Cobra" born in the 1960s. The SuperCobra is differentiated primarily by its twin-engine configuration compared to the single-engine nature of the Cobra system. The SuperCobra achieved its first flight in 1969 and entered service (as the AH-1J) in 1971. This was followed by the modernized AH-1W in 1986. To date, some 1,270 examples have been produced and the type stocks the inventories of the United States (Marines), the Iranian Army, South Korea, Taiwan and Turkey. The AH-1W is being superseded by the newer AH-1Z "Viper" standard.

Outwardly, the SuperCobra family retains much of the external appearance of the original Cobra design including its two-person, stepped cockpit creating a slim profile when viewed from the front. The powered, chin-mounted turret has also been carried over as had the Cobra's fixed, skid landing equipment. The pilot is seated in the rear, elevated cockpit with the weapon's officer in the front cockpit (flight and weapons controls are doubled). The engine pairing drives a two-bladed main rotor and two-bladed tail rotor (the latter affixed to the starboard side of the vertical tail fin. Like the Cobra, the SuperCobra can undertake a variety of battlefield roles that go beyond its base anti-armor capabilities. It can be used in close support of friendly forces, support special forces operations and provide security for convoys. Armed reconnaissance allows the aircraft to both track and engage unsuspecting foes at range through cannon fire, rockets and missiles.

The SuperCobra is outfitted with a 20mm M197 3-barreled Gatling cannon fitted to a powered M97 turret assembly under the nose as standard. This system is afforded 750 rounds of 20mm projectiles. The SuperCobra is also cleared to fire 2.75" (70mm) Mk 40 or Hydra 70 series rockets from multiple-shot pods. It can replace these with the larger 5" (127mm) "Zuni" series rockets fired from four-shot LAU-10D/A series launcher systems. Anti-armor sorties are managed by TOW missile launchers (four-shot launchers) and AGM-114 "Hellfire" anti-tank missiles (M272 launchers). MIssiles are limited to the outboard underwing hardpoint. To counter low-flying aerial threats, the platform can also field the AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range missile at each wingtip. External fuel tanks can also be fitted to help improved operational ranges.

The SuperCobra holds origins in the related twin-engine variants beginning with the AH-1J "SeaCobra" and its export derivative, the AH-1J "International". Then came the AH-1T "Improved SeaCobra" with lengthened tail boom and modernized powerplant/transmission systems. The AH-1W SuperCobra (nicknamed "Whiskey") features day/night fighting capabilities as well as more advanced weapons delivery systems. The AH-1(4B)W "Viper" ("Four-Bladed Whiskey") is an updated version with a four-bladed composite main rotor assembly. The AH-1Z "Viper" ("Zulu Cobra") is a SuperCobra overhaul with four-bladed main rotor blade and the advanced Night Targeting System (NTS) installed.

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The AH-1J SeaCobra was fitted with a single Pratt & Whitney Canada T400-CP-400 series turboshaft engine (PT6T-3 "Twin Pac") of 1,800 shaft horsepower driving a two-blade main rotor and two-blade tail rotor. This provided the mount a top speed of 220 miles per hour, a cruising speed of 175 miles per hour, a range of 360miles and a service ceiling of 10,500 feet. Rate-of-climb was listed at 1,090 feet per minute.

The newer AH-1W SuperCobra sported 2 x General Electric T700-401 turboshaft engines for an output of 1,690 shaft horsepower each. This arrangement also drove a two-bladed main rotor and two-bladed tail rotor. Straight line performance remained the same though range was increased to 365 miles, the service ceiling raised to 12,200 feet and rate-of-climb increased to 1,620 feet per minute.

The Model 309 "King Cobra" was a development based on previous AH-1 offerings intended for all-weather operation. Two prototypes were eventually produced, each with differing engines. The "CobraVenom" was a SuperCobra offering proposed to the British Army. Similarly, Romania was showcased the AH-1RO development and the AH-1Z "King Cobra" was destined for Turkey (existing AH-1 users) to fulfill its ATAK attack helicopter program requirement.

Iran procured a stock of AH-1 SuperCobras while the United States and Iran held a political relationship leading up to the fall of the Shah in 1979. These were then upgraded under the Panha 2091 designation and eventually evolved into the modern Iranian Army IAIO "Toufan" series which more or less appears as a SuperCobra though internally outfitted with Iranian avionics and weaponry.

The primary American operator of the AH-1 SuperCobra is the United States Marine Corps. The aircraft has been used by groups HMLA-167, HMLA-169, HMLA-269, HMLA-367, HMLA-369, HMLA-467, HMLA-469, HMLA-773 and HMLAT-303.

Content ©MilitaryFactory.com; No Reproduction Permitted.

October 2020 - The United States Marine Corps has retired its last AH-1W Super Cobra example.

Power & Performance
Those special qualities that separate one aircraft design from another. Performance specifications presented assume optimal operating conditions for the Bell AH-1W SuperCobra Attack Helicopter.
2 x General Electric T700-GE-401 turboshaft engines developing 1,723 shaft horsepower while driving two-blade main and two-blade tail rotors.
173 mph
278 kph | 150 kts
Max Speed
112 mph
180 kph | 97 kts
Cruise Speed
13,999 ft
4,267 m | 3 miles
Service Ceiling
365 miles
587 km | 317 nm
Operational Range
800 ft/min
244 m/min
City-to-City Ranges
Operational range when compared to distances between major cities (in KM).
The nose-to-tail, wingtip-to-wingtip physical qualities of the Bell AH-1W SuperCobra Attack Helicopter.
45.5 ft
13.87 m
O/A Length
47.9 ft
(14.60 m)
O/A Width
14.6 ft
(4.44 m)
O/A Height
10,919 lb
(4,953 kg)
Empty Weight
14,749 lb
(6,690 kg)
Design Balance
The three qualities reflected below are altitude, speed, and range. The more full the box, the more balanced the design.
Available supported armament and special-mission equipment featured in the design of the Bell AH-1 SuperCobra Attack Helicopter provided across 6 hardpoints.
1 x 20mm 3-barreled Gatling gun in powered chin turret.


8 x Hughes TOW anti-tank missiles (quad launcher on outboard wing station).
8 x AGM-114 Hellfire anti-armor missiles (quad launcher on outboard wing station).
2 x AIM-9L short-range air-to-air missiles
2 x AGM-122A Sidearm air-to-surface anti-radiation missiles.
2 x 2.75in 7-Shot Munition Dispensing/HE Rocket Pods
2 x 2.75in 19-Shot Munition Dispensing/HE Rocket Pods
2 x 7.62mm Machine Gun pods

Also support for Fuel Air Explosive and Conventional Drop Bombs as required as well as external fuel tanks for improved range.

Hardpoints Key:

Not Used
Notable series variants as part of the Bell AH-1 SuperCobra family line.
AH-1J "SeaCobra" - Base Twin Engine Model
AH-1J "International" - SeaCobra Export Variant
AH-1T "Improved SeaCobra" - Improved SeaCobra; lengthened fuselage and tail; upgraded gearbox; upgraded powerplants.
AH-1W "SuperCobra" / "Whiskey Cobra" - Improved engines and weapons suite; day/night operation capability.
AH-1Z "Viper" / "Zulu Cobra" - 4-Bladed Main Rotor; implementation of Night Targeting System (NTS).
AH-1RO "Dracula" - Proposed Romanian Model
AH-1RO "Dracula" - Proposed Romanian Export Model
AH-1Z "King Cobra" - Proposed AH-1Z Export Model for Turkey; never produced.
Model 309 "King Cobra" - Developmental Twin-Engine Cobra fitting 2 x Pratt & Whitney Canada T400-CP-400 turboshaft engines.
"CobraVenom" - Proposed British Model
Panha 2091 "Toufan" - Upgraded Iranian Cobras based on the AH-1J "International" model; indigenous Iranian canopy; revised instrument panels; FLIR installation.
Global customers who have evaluated and/or operated the Bell AH-1 SuperCobra. Nations are displayed by flag, each linked to their respective national aircraft listing.

Total Production: 1,271 Units

Contractor(s): Bell Helicopter Textron - USA
National flag of South Korea National flag of Taiwan National flag of Turkey National flag of the United States

[ South Korea; Taiwan; Turkey; United States ]
Relative Max Speed
Hi: 200mph
Lo: 100mph
Aircraft Max Listed Speed (173mph).

Graph Average of 150 MPH.
Era Crossover
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Showcasing Aircraft Era Crossover (if any)
Max Alt Visualization
Small airplane graphic
Production Comparison
Entry compared against Ilyushin IL-2 (military) and Cessna 172 (civilian) total production.
MACH Regime (Sonic)
RANGES (MPH) Subsonic: <614mph | Transonic: 614-921 | Supersonic: 921-3836 | Hypersonic: 3836-7673 | Hi-Hypersonic: 7673-19180 | Reentry: >19030
Aviation Timeline
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Image of the Bell AH-1 SuperCobra
Low angle right side view of an incoming Marine Bell AH-1 SuperCobra attack helictoper
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Image of the Bell AH-1 SuperCobra
A pair of Bell AH-1 SuperCobra attack helictopers on the hunt
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Image of the Bell AH-1 SuperCobra
Front left side view of a Bell AH-1 SuperCobra attack helictoper at rest; not chin turret armament and four-bladed main rotor
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Image of the Bell AH-1 SuperCobra
Close-up detail view of the canopy on a Bell AH-1 SuperCobra attack helictoper
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Image of the Bell AH-1 SuperCobra
A hovering Bell AH-1 SuperCobra attack helictoper in the desert
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Image of the Bell AH-1 SuperCobra
Side profile close-up detail view of the forward cockpit on a Bell AH-1 SuperCobra attack helictoper; the crewmember peers down the weapons scope
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Image of the Bell AH-1 SuperCobra
Straight on profile view of a Bell AH-1 SuperCobra attack helictoper in flight; note rocket pods and spent TOW missile racks
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Image of the Bell AH-1 SuperCobra
Left side rear view of a Bell AH-1 SuperCobra attack helictoper at rest; note engine exhausts
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Image of the Bell AH-1 SuperCobra
Right side rear view of a Bell AH-1 SuperCobra attack helictoper at rest; note engine exhausts
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Image of the Bell AH-1 SuperCobra
A soldier loads the 7-shot rocket pod onto its launcher on the wingstub of a Bell AH-1 SuperCobra attack helictoper

Mission Roles
Some designs are single-minded in their approach while others offer a more versatile solution to airborne requirements.
Some designs stand the test of time while others are doomed to never advance beyond the drawing board; let history be their judge.
Going Further...
The Bell AH-1 SuperCobra Attack Helicopter appears in the following collections:
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