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AH-1Z Viper

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AH-1Z Viper
An USMC AH-1Z Viper undergoing testing at NAS Patuxent River
Type Attack helicopter
Manufacturer Bell Helicopter
Maiden flight 2000
Status In development
Primary user United States Marine Corps
Developed from AH-1W SuperCobra

The Bell AH-1Z Viper is a twin-engine attack helicopter based on the AH-1W SuperCobra for the United States Marine Corps. The Viper features a four bladed bearingless, composite main rotor system, uprated transmission, and a new Target Sight System incorporating a third-generation Forward Looking infrared (FLIR) sensor.


In 1996, the US Marines launched the H-1 Upgrade Program by signed a contract with Bell for upgrading 180 AH-1Ws into AH-1Zs (upgrading 100 UH-1Ns into UH-1Ys also included).[1][2] The AH-1Z program progressed slowly from 1996 to 2003 largely as a research and development operation.[2] The existing two-bladed semi-rigid, teetering rotor system is being replaced with a four-bladed, hingeless, bearingless rotor system. The improvement in flight characteristics provided by the four-bladed configuration has led to increases in flight envelope, maximum speed, vertical rate-of-climb, payload and rotor vibration level.[3]

Northrop Grumman has developed the integrated avionics systems for the AH-1Z. The systems include two mission computers and an automatic flight control system with four-axis stability control augmentation system. Each crew station has two 8" x 6" multifunction displays and one 4.2" x 4.2" dual function display, based on active matrix liquid crystal color technology. The displays are supplied by L-3 Ruggediszed Command and Control Solutions. The communications suite combines the new US Navy RT-1824 integrated radio, UHF/VHF, COMSEC and modem in a single unit. The navigation suite includes an Embedded GPS Inertial (EGI), a low-airspeed air data subsystem, which allows weapons delivery when hovering and a digital map.[3]

The AH-1Z's first flight was conducted in December 8, 2000,[4] to be followed by low-rate initial production beginning in February 2002, with deliveries running from 2009 through 2013. Three prototype aircraft were delivered to NAVAIR Patuxent River, in July 2002 for the flight test phase of the program. On October 15, 2005 the US Marine Corps, through the Naval Air Systems Command, accepted delivery of the first AH-1Z Viper helicopter to enter the fleet.

Bell Helicopter participated in the Marines' H-1 Upgrade Program, and had been operated by a joint Bell-Government Integrated Test Team during the Engineering Manufacturing Development (EMD) phase of the program. During first quarter 2006 the aircraft were transferred to the Operational Test Unit at the Naval Air Station Patuxent, where they began Operational Evaluation (OPEVAL) training. The H-1 program creates a completely modernized attack and utility helicopter that have considerable design commonality to reduce operating costs. The AH-1Z and UH-1Y share common tail boom, engines, rotor system, drive train, avionics architecture, software, controls and displays for over 84% identical components. This should drive down maintenance while improving reliability for a cost savings of over $3B over the 30 year program.[1]


The aircraft incorporates the latest advances in military avionics, weapons systems, electro-optical sensors and rotary technology to provide totally integrated weapons platform with the ability to locate and identify targets with unprecedented ranges, engage those targets with precision munitions, and survive on both urban and conventional battlefields.

Among some of the newest features of the Viper is the Hover Infared Supressor Systm (HISS) to counter IR threats from the ground while in a hover. The new bearingless, hingless rotor system has 75% fewer parts than that of 4 bladed articulated systems. The blades are made of composites, which have an increased ballistic survivabiltiy, and there is a semiautomatic folding system, for easy stowage aboard a Amphibious assault ships. As for the crew there is the THALES TopOwl Helmet Mounted Sight and Display System. It has true 24 Hour day/night capability using image intensified night vision, binocular display with 40º field of view & visor projection can included FLIR or video imagery.[5]

The AH-1Z's two redesigned wing stubs are longer than on the AH-1W, 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 70 rocket pods, or AGM-114 Hellfire quad missile launcher. The Longbow radar could mounted on a wing tip station.[2]




Data from Bell Specifications,[6] The International Directory of Military Aircraft, 2002-2003,[7] Modern Battlefield Warplanes[2]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 2: pilot, CPG (co-pilot/gunner)
  • Capacity: 6,661 lb (3,021 kg)
  • Length: 58 ft 3 in (17.8 m)
  • Rotor diameter: 48 ft (14.6 m)
  • Height: 14 ft 4 in (4.37 m)
  • Disc area: 1,808 ft² (168.0 m²)
  • Empty weight: 12,300 lb (5,580 kg)
  • Useful load: 5,764 lb (2,620 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 18,500 lb (8,390 kg)
  • Powerplant:General Electric T700-GE-401C turboshaft, 1,800 shp (1,340 kW) each
  • Rotor systems: 4 blades on main rotor, 4 blades on tail rotor



  • M197 3-barreled 20 mm "Gatling-style" cannon in the A/A49E-7 turret (750 rounds ammo capacity)
  • 2.75 in (70 mm) Hydra 70 rockets - Mounted in LAU-68C/A (7 shot) or LAU-61D/A (19 shot) launchers
  • 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 wing tip station (total of 2)


  1. Bishop, Chris. Huey Cobra Gunships. Osprey Publishing, 2006. ISBN 1-84176-984-3.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Donald, David. Modern Battlefield Warplanes. AIRTime Publishing, 2004. ISBN 1-880588-76-5.
  3. 3.0 3.1 AH-1W/AH-1Z Super Cobra Attack Helicopter, USA, Retrieved January 14 2008.
  4. "AH-1Z completes first flight", Bell Helicopter, December 7, 2000.
  5. Bell AH-1Z page, Bell Helicopter, Retrieved 3 January 2008.
  6. Bell AH-1Z Pocket Guide, Bell Helicopter, Retrieved 3 January 2008.
  7. Frawley, Gerard: The International Directory of Military Aircraft, page 37. Aerospace Publications Pty Ltd, 2002. ISBN 1-875671-55-2.

External Links

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See also

AH-1 Cobra H-01 Cobra Category:United States Marine Corps equipment Category:Gulf War aircraft