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For an overview of the whole Huey family of aircraft, see Bell Huey family
AH-1 SeaCobra / SuperCobra
AH-1 Cobra
An AH-1W SuperCobra of the U.S. Marine Corps taking off from an amphibious assault ship at sea
Role Attack helicopter
Manufacturer Bell Helicopter
First flight AH-1J: 1969
Introduction AH-1J: 1971, AH-1W: 1986
Status In service
Primary users United States Marine Corps
Islamic Republic of Iran Army
Republic of China Army
Turkish Army
Produced AH-1J/T/W: 1970–1980s
Number built 1,271+
Unit cost
AH-1W: US$10.7 million[1]
Developed from Bell AH-1 Cobra
Variants Bell AH-1Z Viper
Bell YAH-63/Bell 409
Panha 2091

The Bell AH-1 SuperCobra is a twin-engine attack helicopter based on the United States Army's AH-1 Cobra. The twin Cobra family includes the AH-1J SeaCobra, the AH-1T Improved SeaCobra, and the AH-1W SuperCobra. The AH-1W is the backbone of the United States Marine Corps's attack helicopter fleet, but it will be replaced in service by the Bell AH-1Z Viper upgrade.

Design and development[]

The AH-1 Cobra was developed in the mid-1960s as an interim gunship for the U.S. Army for use during the Vietnam War. The Cobra shared the proven transmission, rotor system, and the T53 turboshaft engine of the UH-1 "Huey".[2] By June 1967, the first AH-1G HueyCobras had been delivered. Bell built 1,116 AH-1Gs for the U.S. Army between 1967 and 1973, and the Cobras chalked up over a million operational hours in Vietnam.[2]

The U.S. Marine Corps was very interested in the AH-1G Cobra, but it preferred a twin-engine version for improved safety in over-water operations, and also wanted a more potent turret-mounted weapon. At first, the Department of Defense had balked at providing the Marines with a twin-engine version of the Cobra, in the belief that commonality with Army AH-1Gs outweighed the advantages of a different engine fit. However, the Marines won out and awarded Bell a contract for 49 twin-engine AH-1J SeaCobras in May 1968. As an interim measure, the U.S. Army passed on 38 AH-1Gs to the Marines in 1969.[3] The AH-1J also received a more powerful gun turret. It featured a three barrel 20 mm XM197 cannon that was based on the six barrel M61 Vulcan cannon.[4]


An AH-1T Sea Cobra prepares to land aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima.

The Marine Corps requested greater load carrying capability in high temperatures for the Cobra in the 1970s. Bell used systems from its Model 309 to develop the AH-1T. This version had a lengthened tailboom and fuselage with an upgraded transmission and engines from the 309. Bell designed the AH-1T to be more reliable and easier to maintain in the field. The version was given full TOW missile capability with targeting system and other sensors. An advanced version, known as the AH-1T+ with more powerful T700-GE-700 engines and advanced avionics was proposed to Iran in the late 1970s, but the overthrow of the Shah of Iran resulted in the sale being canceled.[4]

In the early 1980s, the U.S. Marine Corps sought a new navalized helicopter, but it was denied funding to buy the AH-64 Apache by Congress in 1981. The Marines in turn pursued a more powerful version of the AH-1T. Other changes included modified fire control systems to carry and fire AIM-9 Sidewinder and AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. The new version was funded by Congress and received the AH-1W designation.[4] Deliveries of AH-1W SuperCobras totaled 179 new-built helicopters plus 43 upgrades of AH-1Ts.[5]

The AH-1T+ demonstrator and AH-1W prototype was later tested with a new experimental composite four blade main rotor system. The new system offered better performance, reduced noise and improved battle damage tolerance. Lacking a USMC contract, Bell developed this new design into the AH-1Z with its own funds. By 1996, the Marines were again not allowed to order the AH-64.[4] Developing a marine version of the Apache would have been expensive and it was likely that the Marine Corps would be its only customer.[2] They instead signed a contract for upgrading 180 AH-1Ws into AH-1Zs.[4]

The AH-1Z Viper features several design changes. The AH-1Z's two redesigned wing stubs are longer with each adding a wing-tip station for a missile such as the AIM-9 Sidewinder. Each wing has two other stations for 70 mm (2.75 in) Hydra rocket pods, or AGM-114 Hellfire quad missile launcher. The Longbow radar can be mounted on a wing tip station.[2]

Operational history[]

United States[]

Iraq Cobra

U.S. Marine AH-1W SuperCobras refuel in April 2003, during the invasion of Iraq.

During the closing months of the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War, the Marine Corps embarked the AH-1J SeaCobra assigned to HMA-369 (now HMLA-369) aboard the USS Denver (LPD-9), USS Cleveland (LPD-7), and later the USS Dubuque (LPD-8), for sea-based interdiction of the Ho Chi Minh Trail in North Vietnam in the vicinity of Hon La (Tiger) Island. These were termed Marine Hunter-Killer (MARHUK) Operations and lasted from June to December 1972.[6]

Marine Cobras took part in the invasion of Grenada, during Operation Urgent Fury in 1983, flying close-support and helicopter escort missions. Two Marine AH-1Ts were shot down and three crew members killed.[4] The Marines also deployed the AH-1 off the coast of Beirut, Lebanon in 1983, during that nation's civil war. The AH-1s were armed with Sidewinder missiles and guns as an emergency air defense measure against the threat of light civil aircraft employed by suicide bombers.[7]

USMC Cobras provided escort in the Persian Gulf in the late 1980s while the Iran–Iraq War was ongoing. The Cobras sank three Iranian patrol boats while losing one AH-1T to Iranian anti-aircraft fire.[4] USMC Cobras from the USS Saipan (LHA-2) flew "top cover" during an evacuation of American and other foreign nationals from Liberia in 1990.[4]

During the Gulf War, 78 Marine SuperCobras deployed, and flew a total of 1,273 sorties in Iraq[8] with no combat losses. However, three AH-1s were lost to accidents during and after the combat operations. The AH-1W units were credited with destroying 97 tanks, 104 armored personal carriers and vehicles, and two anti-aircraft artillery sites during the 100-hour ground campaign.[4]

Marine Cobras provided support for the US humanitarian intervention in Somalia, during Operation Restore Hope in 1992-1993. They were also employed during the U.S. invasion of Haiti in 1994. USMC Cobras were used in U.S. military interventions in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and assisted in the rescue of USAF Captain Scott O'Grady, after his F-16 was shot down by a SAM in June 1995.[citation needed]

AH-1 Cobras continue to operate with the U.S. Marine Corps. USMC Cobras were also used in operations throughout the 1990s.[4] USMC Cobras have also served in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and in Operation Iraqi Freedom in the conflict in Iraq. While new replacement aircraft were considered as an alternative to major upgrades of the AH-1 fleet, Marine Corps studies showed that an upgrade was the most affordable, most supportable and most effective solution for the Marine Corps light attack helicopter mission.[9]

Cobra underside

An AH-1 Supercobra in-flight over Iraq in March 2003

During the March 2003 Iraq campaign, 46 of 58 USMC Cobras took battle damage, mostly from infantry-type weapons.[10]

On 19 September 2011, an AH-1W crashed during training exercises at Camp Pendleton, California, killing the two Marine crewmembers on board.[11] An investigation into the crash determined that it was caused by bird strike.[12] The aircraft collided with a Red-tailed Hawk, the impact damaging the pitch change link which in turn produced vibrations to the rotors so fierce that they caused the transmission and rotors to break off from the helicopter body.[12]


File:Bell AH-1 Super Cobra of Imperial Iranian Air Force.jpg

Iranian AH-1J helicopters during the 1970s

In 1971, Iran purchased 202 improved AH-1J Cobras, with the name "AH-1J International", from the United States.[13] This improved Cobra, known as the AH-1J International, resulted from this contract featured an uprated P&WC T400-WV-402 engine and stronger drivetrain. Recoil damping gear was fitted to the 20mm gun turret, and the gunner was given a stabilized sight and even a stabilized chair. 62 of the International AH-1Js delivered to the Shah's Imperial Iranian Army were TOW-capable, while the rest were not.[14]

They participated in the Iran–Iraq War. Iranian AH-1J SeaCobras engaged in air combat with Iraqi Mi-24s on several separate occasions during the war. The results of these engagements are disputed. One document cited that Iranian AH-1Js took on Iraqi Mi-8 and MI-24 helicopters.[15] Unclassified sources report that the Iranian AH-1 pilots achieved a 10:1 kill ratio over the Iraqi helicopter pilots during these engagements (1:5). Additionally, Iranian AH-1 and Iraqi fixed-wing aircraft engagements also occurred. Others claim that in the entire eight-year conflict, ten Iranian AH-1Js were lost in combat, compared to six Iraqi Mi-24s. The skirmishes are described as fairly evenly matched in another source.[16] Iranian AH-1Js destroyed hundreds of Iraqi armored vehicles and other targets in the war.[17] AGM-65 Maverick missiles were used in some operations.[18][19]

In 1988, two Soviet MiG-23s shot down a pair of Iranian AH-1Js[20] that had strayed into western Afghan airspace. Iranian AH-1Js remain in service today and have undergone indigenous upgrade programs.


In 1984, the Republic of China (Taiwan) announced a requirement for attack helicopters and evaluated the MBB Bo 105 and MD 500 helicopters. The requirement formed into an order for 42 AH-1W SuperCobras by 1992. Deliveries of these went from 1993 to 1997. Another 21 AH-1Ws was ordered in 1997. The Ministry of National Defense assigned the helicopters to the ROC Army Aviation Training Centre and two Army Aviation attack helicopter brigades.[21]


Turkey bought ten AH-1W SuperCobras in the early 1990s, and supplemented with 32 ex-US Army AH-1 Cobras.[21] The AH-1s have been used against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) rebels.[22] In late 2011, Turkey requested the purchase of three AH-1Ws from the USMC inventory.[23][24]



For AH-1G, AH-1Q through AH-1S/P/E/F and other single-engine variants, see Bell AH-1 Cobra.



AH-1W on a training mission at the Mojave Spaceport

AH-1J SeaCobra
Original twin engine version.
AH-1J International
Export version of the AH-1J SeaCobra.
AH-1T Improved SeaCobra
Improved version with extended tailboom and fuselage and an upgraded transmission and engines.
AH-1W SuperCobra
("Whiskey Cobra"), day/night version with more powerful engines and advanced weapons capability.
AH-1(4B)W Viper
"Four-Bladed Whiskey" test version with a 4-bladed bearingless composite main rotor based on Bell 680 rotor. A prototype was converted from AH-1T 161022.[25]
AH-1Z Viper
A new variant nicknamed "Zulu Cobra", and developed in conjunction with the UH-1Y Venom for the H-1 upgrade program. The variant includes an upgraded 4-blade main rotor and adds the Night Targeting System (NTS).
Model 309 King Cobra
Experimental all-weather version based on the AH-1G single-engine and AH-1J twin-engine designs.[26] Two Bell 309s were produced; the first was powered by a PW&C T400-CP-400 Twin-Pac engine set and the second was powered by a Lycoming T-55-L-7C engine.[27]
Proposed version for the United Kingdom.[2]
AH-1RO Dracula
Proposed version for Romania.[28]
AH-1Z King Cobra
AH-1Z offered for Turkey's ATAK program; selected for production in 2000, but later canceled when Bell and Turkey could not reach an agreement on production.[29]
Panha 2091
Unlicensed Iranian upgrade of the AH-1J International.
IAIO Toufan
(Iran Aviation Industries Organization), Iranian copy / re-manufactured AH-1, with locally sourced avionics, and weapons.


AH-1 Cobra Operators

Operators of the AH-1 single-engine variants are shown in dark blue, users of the twin-engine variants in green, and operators of both single- and twin-engine variants in light blue; former operators shown in red.

Flag of Iran Iran
Flag of the Republic of China Republic of China (Taiwan)
Flag of South Korea South Korea
Flag of Turkey Turkey
United States

Aircraft on display[]

  • An AH-1J Sea Cobra is on display at the Prairie Aviation Museum, Bloomington, Illinois.[42]


AH-1J SeaCobra[]

Data from Verier,[43] Modern Fighting Aircraft,[44]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 2: pilot, co-pilot/gunner (CPG)
  • Length: 53 ft 5 in (16.3 m) (with both rotors turning)
  • Rotor diameter: 43 ft 11 in (13.4 m)
  • Height: 13 ft 5 in (4.1 m)
  • Empty weight: 6,610 lb (2,998 kg)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 10,000 lb (4,540 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Pratt & Whitney Canada T400-CP-400 (PT6T-3 Twin-Pac) turboshaft, 1,800 shp (1,342 kW)
  • Total engine output: 1,530 shp (1,125 kW) limited by helicopter drivetrain[4]
  • Rotor systems: 2 blades on main rotor, 2 blades on tail rotor
  • Fuselage length: 45 ft 9 in (13.5 m)
  • Stub wing span: 10 ft 9 in (3.28 m)


  • Never exceed speed: 190 knots (219 mph, 352 km/h)
  • Maximum speed: 152 knots (175 mph, 282 km/h)
  • Range: 311 nmi (358 mi, 576 km)
  • Service ceiling: 10,500 ft (3,215 m)
  • Rate of climb: 1,090 ft/min (5.54 m/s)


  • 20 mm (0.787 in) M197 3-barreled Gatling cannon in the M97 turret (750 rounds ammo capacity)
  • 2.75 in (70 mm) Mk 40, or Hydra 70 rockets - 14 rockets mounted in a variety of launchers
  • 5 in (127 mm) Zuni rockets - 8 rockets in two 4-round LAU-10D/A launchers
  • AIM-9 Sidewinder anti-aircraft missiles - 1 mounted on each hardpoint
  • AH-1W SuperCobra[]

    Cobra Front 2

    Head-on view of a U.S. Marine Corps AH-1W carrying full armament

    US Navy 050405-M-1195M-013 An AH-1W Super Cobra assigned to Golden Eagles of HMM-162, provides security for the USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) Expeditionary Strike Group

    USMC AH-1W with an external fuel tank, 2005.

    Data from Verier,[43] Modern Fighting Aircraft,[44] International Directory of Military Aircraft[45]

    General characteristics

    • Crew: 2: pilot, co-pilot/gunner (CPG)
    • Length: 58 ft (17.7 m) (with both rotors turning)
    • Rotor diameter: 48 ft (14.6 m)
    • Height: 13 ft 9 in (4.19 m)
    • Disc area: 1809 ft² (168.1 m²)
    • Empty weight: 10,200 lb (4,630 kg)
    • Max. takeoff weight: 14,750 lb (6,690 kg)
    • Powerplant: 2 × General Electric T700-401 turboshaft, 1,690 shp (1,300 kW) each
    • Rotor systems: 2 blades on main rotor, 2 blades on tail rotor
    • Fuselage length: 45 ft 7 in (13.9 m)
    • Stub wing span: 10 ft 9 in (3.28 m)


    • Maximum speed: 190 knots (218 mph, 352 km/h)
    • Range: 317 nmi (365 mi, 587 km)
    • Service ceiling: 12,200 ft (3,720 m)
    • Rate of climb: 1,620 ft/min (8.2 m/s)


  • 20 mm (0.787 in) M197 3-barreled Gatling cannon in the A/A49E-7 turret (750 rounds ammo capacity)
  • 2.75 in (70 mm) Hydra 70 or APKWS II[46] rockets - Mounted in LAU-68C/A (7 shot) or LAU-61D/A (19 shot) launchers
  • 5 in (127 mm) Zuni rockets - 8 rockets in two 4-round LAU-10D/A launchers
  • TOW missiles - Up to 8 missiles mounted in two 4-round XM65 missile launchers, one on each outboard hardpoint
  • AGM-114 Hellfire missiles - Up to 8 missiles mounted in two 4-round M272 missile launchers, one on each outboard hardpoint
  • AIM-9 Sidewinder anti-aircraft missiles - 1 mounted on each outboard hardpoint (total of 2)
  • See also[]


    1. Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£. "AH-1W Cobra". USMC HQ. Retrieved 2007-09-11. .[dead link]
    2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Donald 2004.
    3. Marine AH-1J SeaCobra.,
    4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 Bishop 2006.
    5. Eden, Paul, ed. "Bell AH-1 HueyCobra". Encyclopedia of Modern Military Aircraft. London: Amber Books, 2004. ISBN 1-904687-84-9.
    6. Verier 1990, pp. 104–111.
    7. John Pike Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£ (1992-04-06). "AH-1W Air Combat Maneuver Training - Why It Must Be Reinstated". Retrieved 2012-05-25. 
    8. AH-1 Super Cobra[dead link] , U.S. Navy. Retrieved 2 January 2008.
    9. Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£. "PMA-276 - USMC Light/Attack Helicopter Upgrade Program". Headquarters Marine Corps. Retrieved 2007-11-18. 
    10. John Gordon IV et al. Assessment of Navy Heavy-Lift Aircraft Options p87. RAND Corporation, 2005. Accessed: 18 March 2012. ISBN 0-8330-3791-9 Quote: "46 of 58 USMC Cobras) took battle damage, mostly from infantry-type weapons, such as machine guns, RPGs, and small arms fire."
    11. Loewy, Tom. "Galesburg Marine killed during training exercise - Peoria, IL". Retrieved 2012-05-25. 
    12. 12.0 12.1 Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£ (18 May 2012). "Bird strike caused fatal US Marine helicopter crash in California: investigators". Retrieved 2012-05-25. 
    13. John Pike Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£. "Iranian Ground Forces Equipment". Retrieved 2012-05-25. 
    14. (John Pike)
    15. Major R.M. Brady, "AH-1W Air Combat Maneuver Training – Why It Must Be Reinstated", 1992.
    16. Arabian Peninsula & Persian Gulf Database, ACIG Journal.
    17. [1]
    18. [2]
    19. [3]
    20. "Soviet Air-to-Air Victories of the Cold War"[dead link] , ACIG Journal, 23 October 2008.
    21. 21.0 21.1 Donald 2004, p. 195.
    22. Bishop 2006, p. 42.
    23. "U.S. giving Turkey 3 helicopters". UPI
    24. Allport, Dave. "Turkey To Acquire Three ex-USMC AH-1W Super Cobras". Key Publishing, 31 October 2011.
    25. "Bell AH-1(4B)W Viper (United States), Aircraft - Rotary-Wing - Military". Jane's Information Group, 15 July 1992. Retrieved: 9 August 2011.
    26. Verier 1990, p. 57.
    27. Richardson 1987, pp. 8–9.
    28. IAR (BELL) AH-1RO DRACULA (Romania). Jane's Information Group, 15 June 2000.
    29. "Back to square one in attack helicopter plan". Turkish Daily News, 2 December 2006.
    30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 30.3 Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£ (2013). "World Air Forces 2013". Flightglobal Insight. Retrieved 12 February 2013. 
    31. Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£. "ROC Bell AH-1W Supercobra". Retrieved 12 February 2013. 
    32. Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£. "Turkish military aviation". Retrieved 12 February 2013. 
    33. Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£. "Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 167 HML/A-167 "Warriors"". Retrieved 12 February 2013. 
    34. Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£. "Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron-169 [HMLA-169"]. Retrieved 12 February 2013. 
    35. Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£. "Marine Light/Attack Helicopter Squadron-269 [HML/A-269"]. Retrieved 12 February 2013. 
    36. Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£. "MARINE LIGHT ATTACK HELICOPTER SQUADRON 367 HMLA-367 "Scarface"". Retrieved 12 February 2013. 
    37. Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£. "Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron-369 [HMLA-369"]. Retrieved 12 February 2013. 
    38. Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£. "Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 467 HMLA-467 Sabers". Retrieved 12 February 2013. 
    39. Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£. "Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469 HMLA-469 "Vengeance"". Retrieved 12 February 2013. 
    40. Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£. "Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron-773 [HMLA-773"]. Retrieved 12 February 2013. 
    41. Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£. "Marine Light Attack Helicopter Training Squadron 303 HMLA/T-303 "Atlas"". Retrieved 12 February 2013. 
    42. Bell AH-1J SeaCobra display.
    43. 43.0 43.1 Verier 1990, p. 184.
    44. 44.0 44.1 Richardson 1987, p. Appendix.
    45. Frawley, Gerard. The International Directory of Military Aircraft, p. 148. Aerospace Publications Pty Ltd, 2002. ISBN 1-875671-55-2.
    46. Marine helicopters deploy with laser-guided rocket -, 17 April 2012
    • Bishop, Chris. Huey Cobra Gunships. Osprey Publishing, 2006. ISBN 1-84176-984-3.
    • Donald, David: Modern Battlefield Warplanes. AIRtime Publishing Inc, 2004. ISBN 1-880588-76-5.
    • Gunston, B.; Spick, M. (1986). Modern Fighting Helicopters. New York: Crescent Books. pp. 104–05. ISBN 0-517-61349-2. 
    • International Air Power Review, Volume 12. AIRtime Publishing. 2004. ISBN 1-880588-77-3. 
    • Nolan, Keith, W. "Into Lao's, operation Lam Son 719 and Dewey Canyon II." 1986. Presidio Press. (An account of the US Army's final offensive of the Vietnam War, in 1971.)
    • Richardson, Doug. Modern Fighting Aircraft, Volume 13, AH-1 Cobra. New York: Prentice Hall, 1987. ISBN 0-13-020751-9.
    • Verier, Mike. Bell AH-1 Cobra. Osprey Publishing, 1990. ISBN 0-85045-934-6.

    External links[]

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