Helicopter-maker Bell has delivered its final AH-1 airframe to the US Marine Corps (USMC).

The Textron subsidiary said on 2 November that the handover of the 189th AH-1Z Viper, originally known as the Cobra, to the USMC marks the completion of the service’s programme of record for the H-1 type, which also included the UH-1 Huey utility lift helicopter.

AH-1Z-c-US Marine Corps

Source: US Marine Corps

Variants of the Bell AH-1 attack helicopter have been in service with the USMC since the 1960s, first seeing combat in the Vietnam War

“The first production lot of USMC H-1s was ordered in 1962, and they changed the way Marines fight today,” says Mike Deslatte, Bell vice-president and H-1 programme director. “Completing the AH-1Z and UH-1Y deliveries to the US Marine Corps adds one more chapter to the legacy of the H-1 platform.”

Bell says the AH-1Z and UH-1Y share 85% commonality, despite differing missions and airframes that are visually distinct.

The H-1 production line began producing Hueys for the US Army in 1959 – a staggering 63-year run. While the army in the 1980s replaced Hueys and Cobras with the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk and Boeing AH-64 Apache, the USMC has continued to operate modernised versions of the airframes.

Bell says it delivered the final UH-1Y, designated the Venom, to the USMC in 2018. The company produced 160 of the “Yankee”-model UH-1s for the service.

Both H-1 types saw combat service with the USMC during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“H-1s are key to the 2022 Marine Corps Aviation Plan,” says Colonel Vasillios Pappas, programme manager for light and attack helicopters. “With the US programme of record now complete, the Marines have the flexibility to manage and deploy the helicopters based on current and future mission requirements as established at the start of the programme.”

With the US military’s conclusion of UH-1 and AH-1 acquisitions, the Bell line will now depend on foreign customers for new sales. The airframes are some of the most widely used military aircraft on the planet, according to Cirium fleet data, with nearly 1,000 Huey and 500 Cobra/Viper types in service.

“While this is the end of the programme record for the United States Marine Corps it really represents a transition to foreign military sales,” says Deslatte.

He notes that Bell’s line in Amarillo, Texas is currently producing 12 AH-1s for Bahrain, with an additional order of four AH-1Zs and eight UH-1Ys for the Czech Republic.

Work on Bahrain’s order is halfway complete, Deslatte notes, with Prague’s aircraft expected to be delivered to the US government in 2023 for turnover to the NATO member.

Bell declines to reveal if it is currently in talks with any other potential customers.

“We obviously have a lot of excitement here at Bell about the potential future for military customer sales,” says Deslatte. “However, we generally don’t comment on any of those until they’ve cleared congressional notification.”

Sales of US-built military hardware to overseas governments are required to be approved by the US State Department and Congress.