The AH-1Z aircraft is an updated version of the AH-1W, bringing new capabilities and features into the squadron's arsenal.
"The AH-1Z's are replacing the AH-1W's, which are essentially from the 1980's,"said Marine Corps Capt. Julian Tucker, the squadron's ground training officer. "Some big takeaways on the new aircraft can be summarized into greater fuel capacity, ordnance capabilities, and situational awareness."
An AH-1Z Cobra helicopter assigned to Rotary Wing Aircraft Test Squadron (HX) 21, based in Patuxent River, Md., Approaches the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1). This upgraded version of the Cobra is not yet available to the fleet. The helicopter features a larger engine and has two more blades than the Cobra's original two, giving it more power and maneuverability. Wasp is conducting test flight operations and was chosen as the platform to evaluate the Limits and capabilities of newer models of Aircraft. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Rebekah Adler)
The AH-1Z can carry and deploy 16 Hellfire missiles, effectively doubling the capacity of its predecessor, the AH-1W. Updated avionics systems and sensors are another important aspect of the upgrade. The upgraded capabilities allow the squadron and Marine Corps Base Hawaii to further project power and reach in the Asia-Pacific region.
"With the new turret sight system sensor, we can see threats from much further out than before," Tucker said. "Obviously, that's a huge advance for our situational awareness."
Marine Corps Maj. Christopher Myette, the assistant operations officer for the squadron, piloted one of the new Vipers back from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
"Having the displays under glass is a big change from the old steam gauges," Myette noted on the new digital display systems. "Another thing you notice is that in the electrical optical sensor, there's a night and day difference."
The updated electrical systems create a new situation for Marines like Sgt. Jeremy Ortega, an avionics technician with the squadron.
"The new Zulus incorporate systems from the AH-1W and the UH-1Y and essentially combine them," Ortega said. "The upgraded turret sight systems create much more in-depth images, which allow pilots to pinpoint targets better and get more descriptive, accurate pictures."
Photo: Sgt. Jamean Berry/USMC
Marines like Ortega are essential to keep the squadron at the peak of readiness during the transition, Myette said.
"Maintenance Marines have done an outstanding job of accepting the new aircraft," Myette said. "They have really done the majority of the heavy lifting on this project, and we definitely appreciate them."
Although there will be a learning curve working with the new system due to its modernity, Ortega said he is excited to work with the upgraded helicopters.
"Times are changing and things are evolving," Ortega said. "It's time for the AH-1W's to go to bed. And, the AH-1Z's are the perfect candidate to replace them."