The AH-1Z Viper evolved from the AH-1W Super Cobra, following the heritage of the AH-1 Cobra, which was the world’s first dedicated attack helicopter. The modern version is also called Zulu Cobra.
The Viper was introduced in 2010 and production began in 2012. The AH-1Z Viper has new engines, new rotor, uprated transmission and upgraded avionics. The avionics include a new target sighting system. To aid against infrared missiles and radar, the Viper is fitted with an infrared suppression system, which covers the exhaust gases. The Viper is a mean adversary and has laser and radar warning systems and radar jammer. It also has a smart countermeasures dispenser with a missile warning device.
Since its introduction in the mid-1960s the Cobra has been constantly improved and upgraded. The latest is in 1996, the H-1 helicopter upgrade program by the US Government for the US Marine Corps bore fruition, and the AH-1Z Viper was launched.
The Bell helicopter company was eventually awarded a contract to deliver both upgraded and newly-built AH-1Z Vipers to the US Marine Corps. The Viper gunship was developed alongside the UH-1Y Venom utility helicopter under the same program.
The AH-1Z Viper is one of the most powerful, capable and advanced helicopters flying today. The AH-1Z made its first flight back in 2000, being introduced to the US Marine Corps in 2010. The Marines will receive a total of 189 Vipers. These include 131 AH-1W models upgraded into AH-1Z and 58 newly built AH-1Z helicopters.
The AH-1Z is powered by two General Electric T700-GE-401C turboshaft engines and has uprated transmission. One of the main external differences from the AH-1W is a composite 4-bladed main rotor, instead of the previous 2-bladed rotor. This rotor system was also used by the original Cobra which saw service in Vietnam. The rotor four blades system reduced vibrations by up to 70 percent.
As a result, flying characteristics and combat manoeuvrability has greatly improved.
Despite all improvements and upgrades, appearance of the AH-1Z remains the same. The pilot is seated behind the co-pilot/gunner at the front. Layout of two integrated digital cockpits is identical and all systems are duplicated. This allows front or back seat occupant to fly the helicopter should either become incapacitated. A number of improvements were made to survivability and crashworthiness of the helicopter. The latest airframe technologies were implemented, such as crashworthy seats, energy absorbing landing gear, self-sealing fuel tanks and fuel systems, and fuel vapour inerting systems.
The fuselage of the helicopter and external components were coated to avoid corrosion during prolonged service at sea, as these helicopters typically operate from amphibious assault ships.
This helicopter uses off-the-shelf electronic systems, and can operate in day, night, or adverse weather conditions. The night vision is twinned with infrared and new target search and acquisition software. It permits Viper to find and engage targets at long range. The Viper can be fitted with Longbow fire control radar, and an automatic flight control station.
Armament of the Viper is very flexible, enhanced by a helmet-mounted sight and display system.
The AH-1Z carries about 2 tons of various weapons on stub-wings. Typically it carries AGM-114A/B/C Hellfire anti-tank missiles (up to 16) and pods with 70 mm unguided rockets. The Viper can be also fitted with AGM-114F Hellfire anti-ship missiles, free-fall bombs, including the Mk.77 incendiary bombs. It can also carry two fire-and-forget AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missiles. The Gun armament is a 20 mm three-barrel cannon.
A total of 189 Vipers have been built, most upgraded from AH-1W airframes.