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Bell AH-1W Super Cobra


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In the early 1980s, the U.S. Marine Corps sought a fully navalized helicopter to replace its fleet of Vietnam-era rotorcraft. The Marine Corps contracted Bell Helicopters for the design and development of this new rotorcraft. In 1985, the first Bell AH-1W Super Cobra took its maiden flight. The twin-engine, tandem-seat attack helicopter supports the Marine Corps during amphibious ship-to-shore movements, provides armed escort for cargo helicopters, suppresses enemy fire in landing zones for ground units, conducts visual armed reconnaissance, and performs a variety of other land- and sea-based operations.

The first attack helicopter to qualify both the Sidewinder air-to-air-missile and the Sidearm anti-radiation missile, the Super Cobra is a formidable foe. Produced by Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, the all-aspect Sidewinder and Sidearm missiles can hit a target over 15 kilometers away. The Super Cobra is also fitted with Raytheon BGM-71 TOW missiles which have a range of over 3 kilometers and are directed by a semi-automatic command-to-line-of-sight guidance system.Lockheed Martin equips the AH-1W with Hellfire anti-armor missiles which are integrated with a semi-active laser seeker to hit targets 7 kilometers away.When firing the Hellfire missile in cooperative mode with laser target illumination, the AH-1W utilizes its fire-and-forget capability.

As of 2008, all Super Cobra helicopters have been armed with the advanced precision kill weapon system (APKWS) version of BAE Systems’ Hydra 70mm rockets. The U.S. Army awarded BAE Systems a USD$96.1 million contract in 2006 for the deliveries of the Hydra guided rockets.For close range combat of up to 2 kilometers, the AH-1W Super Cobra has a three-barrel, 20mm Gatling gun with helmet-mounted sight.

For the sensors system, the Tamam Division of Israel Aircraft Industries Ltd and Kollsman cooperated to produce the night targeting system (NTS) of the Super Cobra. The NTS incorporates a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) to automatically track targets with a laser designator, rangefinder, and video recorder.

For its countermeasures suite, the Super Cobra is fitted with Lockheed Martin’s AN/APR-39(XE2) radar warner, Goodrich’s AN/AVR-2A laser warning receiver, and the ATK AN/AAR-47 missile warning system which uses infrared detectors to spot the plume of enemy missiles. BAE Systems provides the AN/ALQ-144A infrared countermeasures system. BAE Systems also co-developed the AN/ALE-39 chaff and infrared flare dispenser with the Tactical Defense Systems team at Lockheed Martin.

Powered by dual General Electric T700-GE-401 turboshaft engines, the AH-W Super Cobra climbs at a rate of 8.2 meters per second to reach a service ceiling of 3,720 meters. The Super Cobra’s maximum endurance is three-and-a-half hours.

The following are the general characteristics of the Bell AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopter:

Prime Contractor Bell Helicopter (division of Textron, Inc.)
Power Plant Two General Electric T700-GE-401 turboshaft engines (1,690 horsepower each)
Countermeasures AN/ALE-39 chaff system and SUU-4/1 flare dispensers
Armament One nose-mounted M197 three-barrel 20-mm gun with a 750-round ammo container; underwing attachments for four TOW missiles, eight Hellfire missiles, or one AIM-9L Sidewinder missile; Zuni rocket launchers
Climb Rate 1,925 feet/minute
Max Altitude 14,750 feet
Max Attainable Speed 170 knots (195 mph)
Max Cruising Speed 152 knots (173 mph)
Empty Weight 4,634 kg
Mission Fuel Load (Usable) 946 kg
Max Takeoff and Landing Weight 6,690 kg
Max Disc Loading 39.80 kilograms per square meter
Max Power Loading 4.42 kg/kW