Marine Corps Air Station Miramar --
One after another, Marines from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Training Squadron (HMLAT) 303, Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 39, lined up on the flight line at Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton, California, to send off the last 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) AH-1W “Super Cobra” as it departed on its final flight, Feb. 6, to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base’s Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) in Arizona.
Since its activation on April 30, 1982, HMLAT-303 has trained Cobra and Huey pilots for the Marine Corps and Navy in an extensive training syllabus including: familiarization, navigation, ordnance, terrain, formation, instrument and night vision goggle flight.
While HMLAT-303 doesn't deploy as a training squadron, the AH-1W has a long history of deploying with other HMLA squadrons in support of Operation Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and is currently still operational with MAG-29 on the East Coast. Until the recent completion of the AH-1W transition to the AH-1Z, HMLAT-303 maintained the last AH-1Ws within 3rd MAW to train refresher pilots for MAG-29.
“The majority of the Cobra instructor cadre at HMLAT-303 grew up with the AH-1W at their first squadron and deployed with it,” said Capt. J. J. Pierce, HMLAT-303 adjutant and transitioned AH-1Z “Viper” pilot. “Having known that the AH-1W was going to be phased out for a while now, the cadre are excited about the new capabilities with the AH-1Z and welcome the change. It's been special flying the legacy AH-1W, and they definitely played a huge part in the Marine air-ground task force.”
In addition to flight training, HMLAT-303 is the only Marine Corps squadron tasked with training newly designated Naval Aviators destined to become AH-1W, AH-1Z, and UH-1Y replacement, refresher and conversion pilots while simultaneously managing the fleet-wide Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization (NATOPS) standardization program for the H-1.
According to Capt. John T. Fischer, an AH-1Z Weapons and Tactics Instructor with HMLAT-303, the AH-1Z Viper has a significantly higher maximum gross weight due to the improved engines and four-bladed rotor system when compared to the AH-1W; meaning more power available. This increase in power available permits the AH-1Z to carry an increased ordnance payload to the fight.
The AH-1Z also has six stations available on its wing pylons to carry ordnance, vice four on the AH-1W. Stations one & six are capable of carrying the AIM-9, an infrared guided air-to-air missile, which provides the AH-1Z the capability to defend itself and other assault support platforms against an enemy aircraft. Stations two through five are each capable of carrying one of the following: (19) x 2.75" unguided rockets, (4) x AGM-114 HELLFIRE, (7) x 2.75" Guided Rockets (APKWS - Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System), (1) x AIM-9, (1) x 77-Gallon Auxiliary Fuel Tank. When you combine the increase in speed with the increase in fuel (time on station), payload and one of the best sensor systems on the battlefield, you get a much more effective platform at providing offensive air support, armed escort, and airborne supporting arms coordination than the AH-1W, explained Fischer.
“Additionally, there’s a digital ‘under the glass’ cockpit. It’s faster, carries more ordnance and has 84 percent identical components with the UH-1Y (Huey), which makes maintenance processes more efficient. Approximately 30 minutes more endurance, or time on station, allowing more time to support the Marines on the ground,” added Pierce.
The Super Cobra has left a legacy as the Marine Corps’ primary attack helicopter and in their 35 year history, the Marines and Sailors of HMLAT-303 have truly lived up to the charge directed by the commandant of the Marine Corps upon the squadron's activation "… that HMLAT-303 will provide the leadership and professional performance to set the new standards in aircrew training."