The AH-1 Cobra Model 209 (aka HueyCobra & Snake) is an attack helicopter created by Bell Helicopter for the US Army. It first took flight in 1965 and was introduced in 1967.
The Vietnam war was a defining conflict when it came to the use of helicopters as war machines. While the helicopter had already proven itself as a utility vehicle, transport and medevac before the Vietnam war, it was not yet a primary weapon.
The legendary UH-1 Huey is almost synonymous with Vietnam and after arming Hueys with machine guns and rockets proved an effective way to ensure that troops transported as air cavalry to conflict zones could land and return safely.
While the UH-1 did an effective job, it’s lack of armor and speed was a real problem. There are stories of Huey crew having to sit on their bullet-proof vests to stop small-arms fire from below.
The Cobra was born from the need to have a dedicated light-gunship. More specifically, political and logistical problems were holding development of a ground-up gunship back and the Cobra was an answer to getting a gunship in operation in time for the war.
The model 209 Cobra was the demonstrator unit for the Cobra production line. This was a helicopter that reused the engine, transmission and iconic two-blade rotor from the UH-1 with a new tandem seat fuselage. This approach let Bell get the helicopter ready for operations rapidly and the 209 was modified for production. The changes were not extensive, simply replacing the expensive retractable skids with fixed ones, adding a new wider-bladed rotor and swapping out the heavy armored glass for plexiglass.
The 209 used a single Lycoming T53-L-13 turboshaft engine with 1100 shaft horsepower of output. Originally the cobra was armed with two 7.62 mm multi-barrel miniguns or two 40 mm grenade launchers. Alternatively one could have one of each. It also carried 70 mm rockets. Depending on the launcher it could carry between 7 and 19 rockets.
The Marine Corp were impressed with the Cobra and ordered an upgraded twin-engine version of the unit. This was known as the SuperCobra.
Cobras derived from the original model 209 prototype are still in service today. Specifically the twin-engine modernized versions. The Cobra remains in production and to date just over 1100 units have been built.