3d fine art render of Bell AH-1Z Viper helicopter.
The Bell AH-1Z Viper is a twin-engine attack helicopter based on the AH-1W SuperCobra, that was developed for the United States Marine Corps. The AH-1Z features a four-blade, bearingless, composite main rotor system, uprated transmission, and a new target sighting system. The AH-1Z is part of the H-1 upgrade program. It is also called “Zulu Cobra” in reference to its variant letter.
Aspects of the AH-1Z date back to the Bell 249 in 1979, which was basically an AH-1S equipped with the four-blade main rotor system from the Bell 412. This helicopter demonstrated Bell’s Cobra II design at the Farnborough Airshow in 1980. The Cobra II was to be equipped with Hellfire missiles, a new targeting system and improved engines. Later came the Cobra 2000 proposal which included General Electric T700 engines and a four-blade rotor. This design drew interest from the US Marine Corps, but funding was not available. In 1993, Bell proposed an AH-1W-based version for the UK’s new attack helicopter program. The derivative design, named CobraVenom, featured a modern digital cockpit and could carry TOWs, Hellfire or Brimstone missiles. The CobraVenom design was altered in 1995 by changing to a four-blade rotor system. The design lost to the AH-64D later that year however.
The AH-1Z incorporates new rotor technology with upgraded military avionics, weapons systems, and electro-optical sensors in an integrated weapons platform. It has improved survivability and can find targets at longer ranges and attack them with precision weapons.
The AH-1Z’s new bearingless, hingeless rotor system has 75% fewer parts than that of four-bladed articulated systems. The blades are made of composites, which have an increased ballistic survivability, and there is a semiautomatic folding system for storage aboard amphibious assault ships. Its two redesigned wing stubs are longer, with each adding a wing-tip station for a missile such as the AIM-9 Sidewinder. Each wing has two other stations for 2.75-inch (70 mm) Hydra 70 rocket pods, or AGM-114 Hellfire quad missile launchers. The Longbow radar can also be mounted on a wing tip station.
The Z-model’s integrated avionics system (IAS) has been developed by Northrop Grumman. The system includes two mission computers and an automatic flight control system. Each crew station has two 8×6-inch multifunction liquid crystal displays (LCD) and one 4.2×4.2-inch dual function LCD display. The communications suite combines a US Navy RT-1824 integrated radio, UHF/VHF, COMSEC and modem in a single unit. The navigation suite includes an embedded GPS inertial navigation system (EGI), a digital map system and a low-airspeed air data subsystem, which allows weapons delivery when hovering.
The crew are equipped with the Thales “Top Owl” helmet-mounted sight and display system. The Top Owl has a 24-hour day/night capability and a binocular display with a 40° field of view. Its visor projection provides forward looking infrared (FLIR) or video imagery. The AH-1Z has survivability equipment including the Hover Infrared Suppression System (HIRSS) to cover engine exhausts, countermeasure dispensers, radar warning, incoming/on-way missile warning and on-fuselage laser spot warning systems.
The Lockheed Martin target sight system (TSS) incorporates a third-generation FLIR sensor. The TSS provides target sighting in day, night or adverse weather conditions. The system has various view modes and can track with FLIR or by TV. The same system is also used on the UH-1Y Venom and the KC-130J Harvest HAWK.
The AH-1Z completed sea-trial flight testing in May 2005. On 15 October 2005, the USMC, through the Naval Air Systems Command, accepted delivery of the first AH-1Z production helicopter to enter the fleet. The AH-1Z and UH-1Y completed their developmental testing in early 2006. During the first quarter of 2006 the aircraft were transferred to the Operational Test Unit at the NAS Patuxent River, where they began operational evaluation (OPEVAL) testing.