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AH-1 SeaCobra

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AH-1J/T SeaCobra
A USMC AH-1W SuperCobra taking off from an amphibious assault carrier
Type Attack helicopter
Manufacturer Bell Helicopter
Maiden flight 1969 (J)
Status Active service
Primary users United States Marine Corps
Islamic Republic of Iran Army
Produced 1970-?
Developed from AH-1 HueyCobra
Variants Bell 309 KingCobra
Bell YAH-63/Bell 409
Panha 2091

The Bell AH-1J SeaCobra and AH-1T Improved SeaCobra is a twin-engine attack helicopter based on the US Army's AH-1 Cobra. The re-engined AH-1W SuperCobra is based on the AH-1T, and is the backbone of the United States Marine Corps's attack helicopter fleet.


The AH-1 Cobra was developed in the mid-1960s as an interim gunship for the U.S. Army for use Vietnam. The Cobra shared the proven transmission, rotor system, and the T53 turboshaft engine of the UH-1 "Huey".[1]

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.[1]

The U.S. Marine Corps was very interested in the AH-1G Cobra, but preferred a twin-engined 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-engined 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-engined AH-1J SeaCobras in May 1968. As an interim measure, the U.S. Army passed on 38 AH-1Gs to the Marines in 1969.[2] 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.[3]

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 the 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 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.[3]

In the early 1980s, the U.S. Marine Corps sought a new navalized helicopter, but 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.[3]

Operational history

During the Gulf War in 1990-91, the Cobras and SeaCobras deployed in a support role. A total of 78 Marine SeaCobras flew 1,273 sorties[4] with no combat losses. Three AH-1s were lost in accidents during fighting and afterwards. Marine AH-1Ws destroyed 97 tanks, 104 armored personal carriers and vehicles, and two anti-aircraft artillery sites during the 100-hour ground campaign.[3]

Cobra helicopter gunships were also used widely by the Israeli Air Force in Operation Peace for Galilee to destroy Syrian armor and fortification. IAF Cobras destroyed dozens of Syrian armored fighting vehicles, including many of the modern Soviet T-72 main battle tanks.

Iranian AH-1J SeaCobras participated in air combat with Iraqi Mi-24s on several separate occasions during the Iran-Iraq War. The results of these engagements are disputed, in a document titled "AH-1W Air Combat Maneuver Training -- Why It Must Be Reinstated" in 1992 by Major R. M. Brady, it is cited that "Iranian AH-1Js engaged Iraqi MI-8 Hip and MI-24 Hind helicopters. 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 8-year conflict, 10 Iranian AH-1Js were lost in combat, compared to 6 Iraqi Mi-24. The skirmishes are described as fairly evenly matched in another source.[5] Iranian AH-1Js are still operating today and have undergone indigenous upgrade programs. In 1988, two MiG-23s operated by Soviet forces shot down a pair of Iranian AH-1Js that had strayed into western Afghan airspace, after a prolonged aerial engagement.

The Pakistan Army has also used the AH-1 as its primary gunship helicopter during the mid-1970s tribal uprising in Pakistan's Baluchistan province, where donated Iranian AH-1Js were used against tribal insurgents.


AH-1J SeaCobra 
Original twin engine version.
AH-1J International 
Export version of the AH-1J SeaCobra; sold only to Iran.
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-1Z Viper 
("Zulu Cobra"), in conjunction with the UH-1Y Venom upgrade. Version includes an upgraded 4 blade main rotor and adds the Night Targeting System (NTS).
Model 309 King Cobra 
Experimental version powered by two engines; partly based on the AH-1J.
Panha 2091 
unlicensed Iranian upgrade of the AH-1J International.




AH-1J SeaCobra

Data from Aviation Enthusiast Corner[6]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 2: pilot, CPG (co-pilot/gunner)
  • Length: 44 ft 3 in (13.5 m)
  • Rotor diameter: 43 ft 11 in (13.4 m)
  • Height: 13 ft 5 in (4.1 m)
  • Disc area: ft² (m²)
  • Empty weight: 6,595 lb (2,998 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 9,979 lb (4,525 kg)
  • Powerplant:Pratt & Whitney Canada T400-CP-400 (PT6T-3 Turbo Twin Pac) turboshaft, 1,800 shp (1,342 kW) each
  • Rotor systems: 2 blades on main rotor, 2 blades on tail rotor



  • M197 3-barreled 20 mm "Gatling-style" 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 (127mm) Zuni rockets - 8 rockets in two 4-round LAU-10D/A launchers
  • AIM-9 Sidewinder Anti-Aircraft Missiles - 1 mounted on each hardpoint


  1. 1.0 1.1 Donald, David: Modern Battlefield Warplanes. AIRtime Publishing Inc, 2004. ISBN 1-880588-76-5
  2. Marine AH-1J SeaCobra on
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Bishop, Chris. Huey Cobra Gunships. Osprey Publishing, 2006. ISBN 1-84176-984-3.
  4. AH-1 Super Cobra, U.S. Navy. Retrieved 2 January 2008.
  5. Arabian Peninsula & Persian Gulf Database from ACIG Journal
  6. Aviation Enthusiast Corner - Museum/Aircraft Reference. Retrieved on 2007-06-24.
  • Gunston, B.; Spick, M. (1986). Modern Fighting Helicopters. New York: Crescent Books, 104-05. ISBN 0-517-61349-2. 
  • (2004) International Air Power Review, Volume 12. AIRtime Publishing. ISBN 1-880588-77-3. 
  • Nolan, Keith, W. "Into Lao's, operation Lam Son 719 and Dewey Canyon II." l986. Presidio Press. An account of the US Army's final offensive of the Vietnam War, in 1971.

External links

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