These Are The Most Stunning Pictures Of An AH-1 Cobra You Are Likely To Ever See

Enjoy the single-engine Cobras in Japanese Ground Self Defense Force colors while you still can as the country is looking to replace the type.

byTyler Rogoway|
Japan photo


Bell's AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter, a very close cousin to the iconic UH-1 Huey, has always been a sinister looking machine whose slender physique and venomous bite does justice to its serpent namesake. Over the last fifty years the helicopter has evolved dramatically in some ways, but its basic configuration remains the same. Still, the earlier single turbine models, and especially those with flat ballistic glass canopies, have a certain athletic appearance compared to their ever-bulkier twin-engine Cobra successors. And I have never seen one captured more brilliantly than by my Twitter contact and aviation photographer extraordinaire @munbo327EJ.

The series of photos below were taken during the Helicopter and Disaster Prevention Festival held in Oyabe, Japan on August 25th, 2018. Our photographer positioned himself in a building on the hillside above the festival to capture the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force AH-1S demo in absolutely spectacular fashion.

We talked just recently about how an elevated perspective can make for the ultimate air show pictures, and once again this rule is proven true: 


Japan's Fuji Heavy Industries built 89 AH-S Cobras under license between 1984 and 2000, about 60 of which remain in service. Following the Cobra's production run in Japan, JGSDFs procured a dozen AH-64D Longbow Apaches. At times it seemed that Japan would procure addition Longbows, but those orders never materialized and now Japan is look at options for replacing its Cobra fleet to augment the higher-end but tiny Apache force. 

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Japan also has ordered over a hundred indigenously developed Kawasaki OH-1 light scout and armed reconnaissance helicopters, but they are not seen as a replacement for the Cobras. Instead they will replace Japan's fleet of aging OH-6 Little Birds that serve in a similar role. 


Now known as the AH-X tender, the favorites to replace the single-engine Cobras are the AH-1Z Viper, the latest and most capable of the long-serving Cobra lineage, and the AH-64E Apache Guardian which has a roadmap to quickly add new capabilities and to better excel in the maritime combat environment. 

The AH-1Z was developed for the U.S. Marine Corps out of the AH-1W Super Cobra, which itself was derived from the AH-1J Sea Cobra, an aircraft that was built specifically to be at home operating from vessels out at sea. The Apache on the other hand was never realized in a dedicated manner, but operators do fly them from ships—most notably the British Army Army Air Corps. 

WAH-64D aboard HMS Ark Royal back in 2010. , UK MoD

As we mentioned a moment ago, the Apache Guardian is going to be get some enhancement to make it better suited for maritime warfare, although the somewhat simpler AH-1Z Viper really has a pedigree for such operations. 

There have been various proposals for a maritime Apache variant, some more elaborate than others. The one on the right included a fighter's pulse doppler radar, widely set landing gear and a host of other modifications. While more conservative concepts have also been offered. This includes the one on the left that shows a lightly modified Apache but packing a huge punch in the form of four AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles. , Public Domain

Why any of this is important is because Japan's realignment as military power, in which expeditionary and offensive capabilities are now on the table, is going to have a major focus on getting the very most punch out of their existing 'helicopter carrying destroyers,' which are actually aircraft carriers. The integration of the F-35B with Japan's two Izumo class carriers—the largest in Japan's inventory—is part of this initiative. But fielding highly-modern and capable attack helicopters from these ships and their smaller cousins is a much more easily obtained and economic capability. Using attack helicopters operating from amphibious flattops for dedicated strike operations over land is a tactic that was reenergized and proven highly valuable over Libya by the USMC in recent years, and Japan has surely taken notice.

Izumo and her sister ship will likely be modified to accommodate F-35Bs, but new navalized attack helicopters could also offer some serious punch for the big ships and their slightly smaller cousins., AP

With all this in mind, Japan's Cobra replacement could be a central player in the country's naval power projection capabilities, which will have real geopolitical and military impact on the region. 

It's somewhat unlikely that Japan's AH-1S Cobras will all be sent to the boneyard or the scrap heap. There is an emerging cottage industry that aims to rework these exact types of helicopters, adding new avionics, sensors, and new weaponry, along with a major structural overhaul, that offers a package of for capabilities that creeps towards those found on the new AH-1Z but for a fraction of the price. 

AH-1Z Viper., USMC

As such, Japan's AH-1s may rise even after retirement to strike again. In the meantime, enjoy these awesome pics of this legendary helicopter. 

A huge thanks to @munbo327EJ for sharing is awesome images with us. He has an outstanding Twitter feed, make sure you follow him!

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