The U.S. Naval Air Systems Command has awarded Bell Helicopter Textron a $35.8-million contract to design new cabins and cockpits for its AH-1Z Super Cobra. The contract, issued on Sept. 15, marks a significant new phase in a program that began before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as an upgrade of aging AH-1W versions of the attack helicopter. With the Navy paying for new cabin design and engineering to fit General Electric T700-401C engines into the aircraft, Bell officials expect their chances of selling Super Cobras overseas to improve. Turkey chose the AH-1Z as its new attack helicopter nearly 10 years ago but later scrapped the deal and bought Eurocopter Tigers instead.
Until now, Bell has been modifying old Marine Corps AH-1Ws into AH-1Zs but building new UH-1Y Hueys under a program the service originally created to upgrade 180 existing Super Cobras and 100 UH-1N Hueys. The Marines have worn out or lost so many helicopters in Afghanistan and Iraq that they are at least 40 short of the 180 old Super Cobras they intended to modify. The service also revised the total number of AH-1Zs it requires to 226 and the number of UH-1Ys to 123 after Congress approved an increase in the Corps’ size from 175,000 to 202,000 two years ago. Bell began building new Yankee model Hueys for the Marines three years ago.
Once the new Zulu Super Cobra is tested, a company official told Rotor & Wing, Bell should have a better chance of selling some abroad because they’ll be cheaper for foreign customers. “Whoever buys them won’t have to pay the non-recurring costs to build the new cabins,” the official said.