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Artifact Friday: AH-I Cobra

On September 7, 1965, the AH-1 Cobra prototype took its first flight.

Eight months after the U.S. Army’s initial attack helicopter request, the Model 209 was flown. While there were other companies pursuing a similar design for the Army, including Piasecki Aircraft, Bell Model 209 won.

By the time this model came out, there were at least 50,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam. The U.S. Army urgently needed an attack helicopter to provide air support for ground troops.

The Army ordered 110 of the Model 209 which they dubbed the AH-1 “Cobras”.

Because of their similarities to the UH-1 Iroquois or Huey, the Cobras were often called the Huey Cobra.

Cobras began arriving in Vietnam around 1967.

AH-1 attack units were immediately activated and taken into combat.

They provided crucial firepower support in battles, and

reconnaissance protection, and they would even fly in “hunter-killer” pairs with Hughes OH-6A Cayuse.

Additionally, Cobras were occasionally used on rescue missions. As seen in the news this past week, a Cobra helicopter pilot named Larry Taylor just received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his Cobra rescue in Vietnam.

Taylor was able to land his Cobra during a firefight bringing the men back to base, not losing one. They were all hanging onto whatever they could including the rocket pods and even the skids.

AH-1s continued to be used even after the Vietnam War. They served in Grenada, Panama, and Operation Desert Storm.

They retired from the Army in 1999 and were replaced by the AH-64 Apache.

The Marine Corps continued to use the AH-1 Super Cobra (a double-engine version of the AH-1) until 2020; although they still fly the AH-1Z Viper (an advanced Super Cobra).

AH-1 Cobras have not only been used by the United States, but they were also exported to foreign countries for military use including Japan, Israel, the Philippines, and Turkey. AH-1s are even used by the U.S. Forest Service as “fire watch” Cobras or as they were known in Florida- “Fire snakes”.

AH-1 Cobras were incredibly useful in their time and are still considered one of the best attack helicopters to serve in the United States military.

The Arkansas Air and Military Museum has an AH-1 Cobra on display in the Leonard McCandless Memorial Hangar. While not the exact one, it is similar to the Cobras used in Vietnam.

It is a favorite rotor-aircraft of visitors, especially the Vietnam veterans who experienced their use.

We hope you take time this weekend to come and see it!

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