Military Aviation

US Army Apache Repairman explains why the AH-64D/E is a heavy attack helicopter while the AH-1Z Viper is a medium attack helicopter

‘The AH-1Z Viper is faster and more maneuverable than the heavier AH-64D/E Apache. The drawback to this, however, is firepower,’ Caleb Posey, Apache Helicopter Repairman at US Army.

The AH-1 Cobra is a two-blade rotor, single-engine attack helicopter manufactured by Bell Helicopter. It was developed using the engine, transmission and rotor system of the Bell UH-1 Iroquois. A member of the prolific Huey family, the AH-1 is also referred to as the HueyCobra or Snake.

The AH-1 was the backbone of the US Army’s attack helicopter fleet, but has been replaced by the AH-64 Apache in Army service. Upgraded versions continue to fly with the militaries of several other nations. The AH-1 (AH-1W Super Cobra and AH-1Z Viper) twin-engine versions remain in service with US Marine Corps (USMC) as the service’s primary attack helicopter.

But which are the differences between Cobra and Apache attack helicopters? And which one is better?

Caleb Posey, Apache Helicopter Repairman at US Army (2018–present), explains on Quora;

‘Well, the modern, AH-1Z Super Cobra (more correctly known as the Viper, but most of crewmen/Marines I work with call it a Super Cobra, so I will refer to it as such from this point forward) is much lighter than the AH-64D/E Apache, and more aerodynamic as well. It has a modern 4 bladed rotor, and big, shiny new modern engines. This makes it faster and more maneuverable than the heavier Apache. You can see the size difference pretty easily:

AH-1Z Super Cobra
AH 64 Apache

‘The drawback to this, however, is firepower. The Super Cobra has a 20mm cannon vs. the Apache’s significantly more powerful 30mm. The payload is also much smaller, and the survivability of the airframe is not as good. The Super Cobra can be thought of as a “medium” attack helicopter, while the Apache is a “heavy.” The Little Bird is more of a “light.”

‘The Marines are the only ones to still use the Super Cobra, as it gives them a nice combination of firepower and mobility (like ease of transport and logistical support in addition to flight characteristics) while the Army prefers the heavier hitting Apache. That’s a very simplified explanation of the two birds, but I think it does the job.’

Posey continues;

‘I will be more specific here:

AH-1Z:

‘(The most powerful version, in current use by the USMC. One landed at my airfield yesterday.)

  • Never exceed speed: 222 knots (255 mph, 411 km/h) in a dive
  • Cruise speed: 160 kt (184 mph, 296 km/h)
  • Range: 370 nmi (426 mi, 685 km)
  • Service ceiling: 20,000+ ft (6,000+ m)
  • Rate of climb: 2,790 ft/min (14.2 m/s)

AH-64E:

‘(The most powerful version in service, slowly replacing the older D model. I work on the E models daily.)

  • Never exceed speed: 197 knots (227 mph, 365 km/h)
  • Cruise speed: 143 knots (165 mph, 265 km/h)
  • Range: 257 nmi (295 mi, 476 km) with Longbow radar mast
  • Service ceiling: 21,000 ft (6,400 m) minimum loaded
  • Rate of climb: 2,500 ft/min (12.7 m/s)

Posey concludes;

‘As you can see, the NEWEST version of the AH-1 is faster, with faster rate of climb, than the newest version of the AH-64 Apache.’

Photo credit: U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. AH-64D “Longbow Apache” Serial No.99-5135, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, Iraq, March 2003.
Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

View Comments

  • I stopped reading when the author described the AH-1Z as using a 2-bladed system. The Zulu model has a 4-bladed rotor head. Stick to what you know.
    R. Bowen
    LtCol USMC (RET)
    Cobra pilot with 4,000+ hours in type

    • The first paragraph of the article describes the genesis of the Cobra not that of the Viper. This is necessary to highlight that the Viper that descends from the Cobra. Anyway, if you read the article you will find that it clearly says that the AH-1Z has a 4-blade system. Thanks for reading and if you have any story you would like to share with us feel free to contact us. Congrats for your outstanding career.

  • As a former 15Y, I'll dispute most of the premise here.

    First, the AH-1Z has almost the same empty and max weight as the AH-64D, when listing numbers is curious this was left out.

    Secondly, they have the same theoretical 2.75" rocket, Hellfire, or intermixed load. The biggest difference in firepower is the 30mm for the Apache and the ability to mount sidewinders for the AH-1Z (although I don't know if the USMC do this, funnily enough though the Israeli Apaches did get bought with the option to mount Sidewinders). I was actually jealous of the USMC because they were heavily investing in the AGR-20 to give 2.75" rockets a guidance system, at least when I was in. Hopefully the Army reversed their position on it, because the Army spent their development money on lasers for the Apache which are an area I don't see being an effective weapon for an Apache sized aircraft for a long time.

    Between the two of them, the only feather in the cap for the Apache is the Longbow system but it's value is quickly depreciating with UAV integration, something they the AH-1Z has too if I remember correctly.

    I think the idea of separating them only 'medium' and 'heavy' is an excuse for this guy to flex that he works on Apaches and that because he works on them they're inherently superior.

    In practice both aircraft have the exact same role, effective close air support that's organic to the service using them. Their origins may be entirely different but convergent evolution has done it's work.

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