Warplanes: More Vipers, More Delays


August 29,2008:  The U.S. Marine Corps is in the process of remanufacturing its AH-1T/W attack helicopter into AH-1Z models. But problems have been encountered with the fire control system (which is, when it works, similar to what the latest AH-64s have). These problems will delay large scale production of the AH-1Z. However, the marines can still catch up, as the AH-1Z was not scheduled to enter service until 2011. Meanwhile, the marines are confident enough about the AH-1Z to up the order from 180 to 226. This will mean a few dozen AH-1Zs will have to be manufactured new, in addition to the rebuilt AG-Ws.. The marines are also increasing the order for the refurbed UH-1s (the UH-1Y) to 123.

The seven ton AH-1W is an upgrade of the Vietnam era AH-1. The new model was configured for naval use, and has two engines and protection against sea water corrosion. Most of these aircraft were originally manufactured in the 1970's, with some 44 AH-1W models built in the 1980's. The goal of this program is not only to deliver a much more capable aircraft, but also to have an 84 percent commonality of parts between the two, thus greatly reducing maintenance costs.

The original upgrade plan was to remanufacture 180 AH-1T/W attack helos into AH-1Z "Viper" models. This upgrade will give the aircraft a new 4 bladed composite rotor system, transmission, strengthened structural components, and modern digital cockpit avionics. The 8 ton AH-1Z is armed with a three barrel 20mm Gatling gun (and 750 rounds) and eight Hellfire missiles. It can also carry two Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. The AH-1Z can operate around the clock, in all kinds of weathers. Sorties last about two hours each and cruising speed is 248 kilometers an hour.





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