MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
In 1968, enemies of U.S. forces in Vietnam discovered a new and deadly reason to fear close-air support from the AH-1G “HueyCobra.” Present enemies will have a new reason to fear the latest generation of Cobra, the AH-1Z “Viper.”
For almost a decade, Marine aviation has been developing a re-invention of the Corps’ signature gunship, bringing several new capabilities to the fight in the Global War on Terror.
“The ‘Zulu’ has the ability to provide longer time on station due to increased fuel capacity as well as carrying twice as many precision guided missiles,” said Capt. Daniel McGuire, an AH-1W/Z flight officer with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Training Squadron 303. “The AH-1Z has the capacity for carrying 16 Hellfire missiles and a full tank of gas for two-and-half hours time on station.”
The new “Zulu” now carries 2,500 lbs of useable fuel, giving it 32 percent more capacity than the “Whiskey” currently flown by Marine pilots. It also enables the Cobra to carry 3,000 pounds of ordnance into the fight. The increased fuel capacity grants the Cobra a strike range of more than 170 nautical miles, almost twice as far as previous models.
The most noticeable change is the modification from two rotor blades to four on both the main and tail rotors. Other improvements include new powerful T700-GE-401 engines, near identical front and rear cockpits, fully integrated weapons, avionics and communications systems and advanced aircraft survivability equipment.
“The AH-1W is a great aircraft that has performed very well and will continue to do so in the future,” said Capt. Daniel McGuire, a AH-1W/Z flight officer with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Training Squadron 303. “The “Zulu” is a fun aircraft to fly as it is smooth, responsive and extremely capable and I look forward to its future.”
Marine Light Attack Helicopter Training Squadron 303 remains at the forefront of introducing the new AH-1Z and UH-Y1 to the fleet through training the first pilots.
“It takes approximately 2 months to complete the Core Introduction phase of training for a series conversion (an AH-1W pilot becoming a AH-1Z pilot),” said Capt. Travis L. Patterson, a pilot with the squadron. “A brand new pilot coming from flight school will take approximately four to five months to complete the training and become a basic AH-1Z pilot. The course consists of computer based training courses, lectures and ground training classes and numerous simulator and flight events during both day and night.”
The helicopter squadron has been training pilots for more than a year to prepare for future conflicts ahead.
“As we continue to grow and conduct training in five different types of aircraft, HMLA/T-303 is the largest squadron in the Marine Corps in terms of numbers of pilots, aircrew, mechanics, and personnel,” said Lt. Col. Mark E. Sojourner, the commanding officer of HMLA/T-303. “This is our first full year of training with the new models. The overall success of the program is alive and well and flourishing.”
The Marine Corps has ordered 180 of the gunships which will replace the aging fleet as years pass. When the Zulu deploys in the near future, U.S. forces will have a new weapon to unleash on the enemy.