The first 'pure' attack helicopter, as we know it today, was Bell's AH-1G Cobra, which initially flew on 7 September 1965. It was armed for ground attack with four seven-centimetre rocket pods on stub wings and with a 7.62 mm machine gun and a 40 mm grenade launcher mounted on a nose turret. As anti-tank guided weapons were developed, the attack helicopter assumed the anti-armour role. Armed with Hughes Aircraft (now Raytheon) BGM-71 Tows, the AH-1-series went on to become a world standard, serving with the US Army, US Marine Corps and a host of other international air arms.
The AH-1 Cobra and SuperCobra, in various iterations, have achieved more than 4.5 million flight hours since the first AH-1G was delivered to the US Army in 1967. Although AH-1s have now been replaced in US Army service by the Boeing (McDonnell Douglas, formerly Hughes Helicopters) AH-64 Apache, AH-1W SuperCobras remain in US Marine Corps service. In 1999, the Corps initiated the H-1 Upgrade Program, which involves the remanufacture of 180 AH-1Ws to AH-1Z configuration (along with 100 UH-1N to UH-1Y standard), which should see both types in service to 2020.
The advanced configuration features a four-bladed, all-composite, hingeless and bearingless main rotor system and tail rotor, identical drive trains, hydraulics and electrical distribution systems and common twin General Electric T700 engines. The AH-1Z features a new Integrated Avionics System from Litton Guidance and Control and is armed with 16 Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and two Raytheon AIM-9 Sidewinders as well as a nose-mounted GAU-16 20 mm cannon.
The first Zulu flew on 7 December 2000. Three development aircraft are currently flying from the US Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Maryland flight test facility. The initial operational assessment of the AH-1Z SuperCobra (and UH-1Y Huey) began at the Patuxent River test facility on 13 February last.
A decade after the 'G' series flew, Bell's YAH-63A was in the air and competing against the Hughes Helicopters' YAH-64 design to become the US Army's advanced attack helicopter. In December 1976, the AH-64A Apache was declared the winner and ordered into development. With the final Fiscal Year 1994 procurement of ten Apaches, the US Army had bought a total of 821 (plus prototypes and development aircraft).
Full-scale development of the Apache's upgrade to the AH-64D Apache Longbow began in 1990 and centred on the development of the...