Bell Helicopter won the competition for an interim fast armed escort helicopter in March 1966, against the Sikorsky S-61 and the Kaman HH-2C Tomahawk. DoD contracted with Bell Helicopter, Inc. (BHI) for 1,100 AH-1G aircraft, which would eventually log more than 1 million flight hours in Vietnam.
Based on his belief that Colonel Seneff accurately represented the needs of the soldiers on the ground and had a strong sense of loyalty and integrity, General Johnson almost immediately sent him to Vietnam as the first commander of the 1st Aviation Brigade. Immediately upon arriving in Vietnam, Seneff called in all aviation commanders and told them that the Army needed standardization for aviation, and that it would start right there, in Vietnam.
The AH-1G Cobra (sometimes referred to as the Snake) was first deployed to Vietnam in September 1967. The Cobra's primary mission was to give fire support to troop carrying UH-1 "Hueys." Its introduction to service was a trial-by-fire as the AH-1G in Vietnam immediately provided ground commanders with air superiority without the wait of calling in the Air Force. The narrow 38 inch wide airframe presented a much more difficult target than it's derivative, the 100 inch wide UH-1 "Huey." During the Vietnam War, the AH-1G Cobra was used extensively in a variety of missions ranging from armed escort and reconnaissance to fire suppression and aerial rocket artillery. The Cobra, was often used effectively when paired with an unarmed OH-6A Cayuse "Loach" or OH-58A Kiowa light observation helicopter or a UH-1H "Nighthawk" (UH-1Hs specifically equipped for night time missions). The former pairing was referred to as a "Pink Team," in reference to the existing terminology of "White Teams" for light observation helicopters and "Red Teams" for attack helicopters (Blue was used to refer to troop carrying elements). So-called Light Fire Teams (LFRs) of a single OH-6A and 2 AH-1Gs were also operated.
During the early 1970s, the Army conducted a series of tests in Ansbach, Germany. The tests were to determine the suitability of air cavalry elements and the AH-1G Cobra, in particular, to operate in an antitank role in the European environment. These tests demonstrated that antiarmor helicopter teams, properly employed and trained, could achieve high ratios of armored vehicles destroyed for every missile-firing helicopter lost. Armed scout and attack helicopters, especially when operating in nap-of-the-earth and nighttime environments, were clearly shown to have the required survivability and to be viable and essential elements of conventional mid- to high-intensity warfare. Thus the way was paved for the development of the modern attack and scout helicopters and the doctrinal principles that would take Army aviation into the next century.
The AH-1G Cobra was capable of using a variety of weapons. It was often armed with 2.75 inch (70mm) Folding Fin Aerial Rockets (FFARs) in M158 7-tube or M200 19-tube rocket launchers, used so effectively at An Loc in 1972. The Cobra also had an integral chin turret, designated the M28/M28A1 armament subsystem (Emerson TAT-141). The chin-turret could mount 2 M134 7.62mm miniguns or 2 M129 40mm automatic grenade launchers, or one of each. The AH-1G could also be armed with the M134 minigun in fixed side-mounting M18/M18A1 gun pod, or the side mounting M195 20mm automatic gun on the M35 armament subsystem (only capable of being fitted to the port (left) side of the aircraft). The AH-1G could also mount the XM118 smoke grenade dispenser.
Experience showed that problems with the ammunition feed systems were often experienced using pairs of either weapon in the turret, and one of each type would become the standard. The AH-1G Cobra was powered by a single Lycoming T53-L-13 1400 shp turbine engine, and had a speed of 196 mph (170 knots), almost twice the speed of the UH-1 Huey. The AH-1G used the M73 reflex sight. The Cobra performed it's job so well it was possible for the first time for troop-carrying "Slicks" and gun ships to operated as true air calvary.
Upgrade programs were developed for the AH-1G including the CONFICS (Cobra Night Fire Control System) and the SMASH (Southeast Asia Multi-Sensor Armament Subsystem for Huey Cobra) systems to provide the Cobra with the capability of detecting, identifying, and targeting ground targets during day or night operations.
The original AH-1G prototype, serial N209J, had fully retractable skids. N209J was used as a test vehicle and was later fitted with a chin-mounted M197 20mm cannon, a TSU, and the TOW missile system. This was possibly a prototype of the armament subsystems that were being developed for the US Marine Corps AH-1J or AH-1T configurations.
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