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The Marines’ AH-1 Super Cobra Attack Helicopter Is Slithering Away After Three Decades Of Service

All snakes shed their skin and after 34 years, the Marines have shed their longtime primary attack helicopter, the AH-1W Super Cobra. On October 14, the last official Marine flight of a Super Cobra took place at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, Louisiana. The Super Cobra has already largely been replaced in Marine service by another snake, the AH-1Z Viper.

The AH-1W Super Cobra, or “Whiskey,” as it was known, had its origins in the original Cobra, the AH-1, developed by Bell in 1965 with major components borrowed from the company’s iconic Huey, the UH-1 Iroquois. The AH-1Z Viper, itself a development of the Super Cobra, continues the line.

The Super Cobra first flew in 1983 at Bell’s Flight Research Center in Arlington, Texas, and the first AH-1Ws were delivered to the Marines in 1986. By the time the last Whiskey was delivered in 1999, the USMC fleet had grown to 179 Super Cobras. The AH-1W racked up 933,614 hours flying with the Marines during its service life, taking part in campaigns from Operation Desert Storm to Iraqi Freedom, and Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

A USMC Super Cobra from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 773, the “Red Dogs” flew the last … [+]

The AH-1W is the most advanced, most powerful of the twin-blade, twin-engined Cobra variants. Its two General Electric T700-GE-401 turboshaft engines provide 3,380 shaft-horsepower and can push it to a maximum speed of 170 knots and sustain a cruise speed of 132 knots.

The Marines used a substantial portion of their Super Cobra fleet during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Approximately 46 of 58 Whiskeys deployed there took battle damage, mostly from infantry-type weapons according to a 2005 report from Rand Corporation.

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More recently, in 2016, Marine AH-1Ws flew in airstrikes over the Libyan city of Sirte, destroying 25 enemy fighting positions and supply trucks while supporting friendly militias against Islamic State militants.

Super Cobras may be out of business with the U.S. Marines but they’ll continue to fly with foreign operators including Taiwan and Turkey. In 2018, DoD initiated plans to offer surplus AH-1Ws to foreign militaries and the Philippines remains interested in acquiring Whiskeys along with newer AH-1Zs.

In a way, Super Cobras will fly on in AH-1Z Viper guise. Not only is the “Zulu” based on the Super Cobra, a number of AH-1Ws were remanufactured into the newer model.

The Viper’s improvements include a four-bladed composite rotor system, an uprated transmission, four-bladed tail rotor, upgraded landing gear and a fully integrated glass cockpit. An advanced fire control system offers capacity to support multiple weapons configurations from a quiver of 16 air-to-ground missiles to a 20 mm Gatling gun and Sidewinder combination. The Viper also shares 85% components commonality with the Huey-derived UH-1Y also in Marine service.

The AH-1Z Viper still bears a strong resemblance to the original AH-1 Cobra which entered service … [+]

Reflecting on the Super Cobra, Naval Air Systems Command program manager for Light/Attack Helicopter Programs (PMA-276), Colonel David Walsh (USMC), said, “The AH-1W Super Cobra has served admirably and leaves a remarkable legacy of on-time, on-target attack helicopter support for our Marines.”

About 189 AH-1Zs will continue to serve for well over a decade to come. When their time is up, it’s possible they may shed their skin for yet another Bell attack helicopter, the company’s familiarly-configured 360 Invictus.


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