The AH-1Z Viper is the Marine Corps’ primary rotor-wing ground attack aircraft. The AH-1Z attack helicopter provides rotary wing close air support, anti-armor, armed escort, armed visual reconnaissance and fire support coordination capabilities under day night, and adverse weather conditions.
The AH-1Z Vipers is fielded in Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadrons, or HMLAs. Detachments from the HMLAs are deployed as part of Marine Expeditionary Units to support ship-based amphibious exercises and operations.
The Bell AH-1Z Viper is a twin-engine attack helicopter, based on the AH-1W SuperCobra, designed and produced by the American aerospace manufacturer Bell Helicopter. Being one of the latest members of the prolific Bell Huey family, it is also called “Zulu Cobra”, based on the military phonetic alphabet pronunciation of its variant letter.
The AH-1Z was developed during the 1990s and 2000s as a part of the H-1 upgrade program on behalf of the United States Marine Corps (USMC). It is essentially a modernisation of the service’s existing AH-1Ws, and was originally intended to be a rebuild program before subsequent orders were made for new-build helicopters instead.
The AH-1Z and Bell UH-1Y Venom utility helicopter share a common tailboom, engines, rotor system, drivetrain, avionics architecture, software, controls and displays for over 84% identical components. Furthermore, it features a four-blade, bearingless, composite main rotor system, uprated transmission, and a new target sighting system amongst other improvements. On 8 December 2000, the AH-1Z conducted its maiden flight; low-rate initial production was launched in October 2003.