US rotorcraft manufacturer Bell has finalised a deal to provide Nigeria with the company’s latest attack helicopter.

The $455 million contract covers 12 examples of the Bell AH-1Z Viper destined for the Nigerian air force.

It is a significant win for Bell, which has been seeking new overseas customers to sustain the company’s H-1 production line in Amarillo, Texas. The H-1 line assembles both the AH-1Z and the Bell’s UH-1Y Venom utility helicopter – the latest variant of the iconic Vietnam-era Huey type.

Although outwardly appearing distinctly different, Bell says the two rotorcraft share an 85% commonality.

Bell AH-1Z Viper c USMC

Source: US Marine Corps

An order for 12 AH-1Z attack helicopters from Nigeria will extend the life of Bell’s H-1 production line, which has been operating since 1959

The company’s primary H-1 customer, the US Marine Corps, took delivery of its final new aircraft from the line in 2022. Receipt of the service’s 189th AH-1, alongside 160 total UH-1Ys, marked the conclusion of the USMC H-1 programme of record.

Although sustainment work on the USMC fleet will provide for revenue for several decades to come, Bell in 2022 said the final US delivery marked a “transition to Foreign Military Sales [FMS]” for the H-1 programme.

The company has seen success with that approach, securing orders from Bahrain and the Czech Republic.

However, fulfilment of those orders is approaching completion. Bell turned over Bahrain’s final AH-1Z in early 2023 and began delivering Czech aircraft later that summer.

The latest deal with Nigeria is a boost Bell says will further extend the life of the H-1 assembly line.

“[This] allows continued H-1 production, and we are working closely with our government counterparts to make this programme successful for Nigeria,” says Mike Deslatte, Bell’s H-1 programme director.

Bell first began producing UH-1 Hueys for the US Army in 1959.

In addition to its conventional military rotorcraft, Bell has also begun offering a direct commercial sales package that can convert the company’s popular 407 civil type for combat duty. The set-up includes additional cockpit controls and allows for the mounting of multiple outboard machine guns and rocket pods to the rear of the 407’s cabin.

Bell describes the so-called mission kit as a “more-general” solution for operators looking to affordably develop rotary aviation capacity.

The AH-1Z sale to Nigeria is being facilitated through the USA’s FMS system, to include programme management, aircraft delivery and logistics support.

Nigeria’s air force operates a mixed fleet featuring American, Chinese, Russian, Italian, French and Brazilian aircraft, according to Cirium data.

When it comes to rotorcraft, the service already flies two Bell 412 civil helicopters, alongside 15 Leonardo Helicopters AW109s, three Airbus Helicopters H135s, two H215Ms, six Mil Mi-17 utility helicopters and 15 Mi-24/35 attack craft from the former Soviet Union.

The country’s fixed-wing fleet is equally diverse, featuring three Chengdu/Pakistan Aeronautical Complex JF-17 fighters, 12 Chengdu F-7 fighters from China, 12 Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jets and 12 A-29 Super Tucano armed turboprops from Brazilian airframer Embraer.