The US Marine Corps has finally cleared the Bell Helicopter AH-1Z Viper for operations, only a few weeks ahead of a decision to launch full-rate production.
Declared "operationally effective and suitable" on 29 September, the AH-1Z programme can close the book on a protracted, four-year operational evaluation (OPEVAL) process delayed by reliability and technical glitches.
"The AH-1Z has come a long way through development and it has finally proven itself as a lethal and reliable attack helicopter," says Col Harry Hewson, programme manager for USMC light and attack helicopters.
© US Navy
The US Naval Air Systems Command says the OPEVAL report found "the AH-1Z fire control and additional weapons delivery modes allowed for improved weapons delivery accuracy, reduced pilot workload and enhanced employment flexibility compared with the AH-1W".
The USMC plans to remanufacture and build a total of 189 AH-1Z attack helicopters through 2021.