The Bell AH-1Z Viper is an American twin-engine attack helicopter, based on the AH-1W SuperCobra, that was developed for the United States Marine Corps as part of the H-1 upgrade program. The AH-1Z features a four-blade, bearingless, composite main rotor system, uprated transmission, and a new target sighting system. The AH-1Z, one of the latest members of the prolific Bell Huey family, is also called "Zulu Cobra", based on the military phonetic alphabet pronunciation of its variant letter.
The AH-1Z's new bearingless, hingeless rotor system has 75% fewer parts than that of four-bladed articulated systems. The blades are made of composites, which have an increased ballistic survivability, and there is a semiautomatic folding system for storage aboard amphibious assault ships. Its two redesigned wing stubs are longer, with each adding a wingtip station for a missile such as the AIM-9 Sidewinder. Each wing has two other stations for 2.75-inch (70 mm) Hydra 70 rocket pods, or AGM-114 Hellfire quad missile launchers. The AN/APG-78 Longbow fire control radar can also be mounted on a wingtip station.
The crew are equipped with the Thales "Top Owl" helmet-mounted sight and display system. The Top Owl has a 24-hour day/night capability and a binocular display with a 40° field of view. Its visor projection provides forward looking infrared (FLIR) or video imagery. The AH-1Z has survivability equipment including the Hover Infrared Suppression System (HIRSS) to cover engine exhausts, countermeasure dispensers, radar warning, incoming/on-way missile warning, and on-fuselage laser spot warning systems.
The Lockheed Martin Target Sight System (TSS) incorporates a third-generation FLIR sensor. The TSS provides target sighting in day, night, or adverse weather conditions. The system has various view modes and can track with FLIR or by TV. The same system is also used on the KC-130J Harvest HAWK.
In February 2008, the AH-1Z and UH-1Y began the second and final portion of OPEVAL testing. AH-1Z testing was stopped in 2008 due to issues with its targeting systems. The AH-1Z was later declared combat-ready on 30 September 2010.