Army retires Cobras from active force

by Spc. Edward Zink

WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD, Hawaii (Army News Service, March 31, 1999) -- In a ceremony befitting a war hero, soldiers and pilots of the 25th Infantry Division (Light), said farewell this month to the AH-1F Cobra helicopter, the Army's first dedicated attack aircraft.

The last active-duty unit to employ the Cobra -- the1st Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment -- retired the Vietnam-era gunship following a final show of force March 15 in the skies over Oahu.

Eight Cobras were piloted by the unit's senior aviators in formation over the USS Missouri and the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor and through the historic Kolekole Pass at Schofield Barracks before pulling one last pedal turn for the battalion formation on the airstrip at Wheeler.

The Cobras were accompanied on their final flight by a UH-1 Huey and four OH-58A Kiowa helicopters - aircraft which worked closely with the Cobra since it entered service in 1967.

"I'm really sorry to see them go," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Lyle Cram, a Cobra pilot from Company C, 1st Bn., 25th Avn. "It's the finest attack helicopter in the inventory."

Cram co-piloted one of the Cobras on the final flight and logged more than 50 combat hours in the aircraft during Operation Just Cause in Panama. He said the sight of the battalion formation and ceremony as he landed the warbird at Wheeler gave him "chicken skin" - the Hawaiian equivalent of goose bumps.

"I was real proud," said Cram, who is being reassigned to fly CH-47 Chinook transport helicopters for another unit within the division. "It was kind of sad though. Me and the [pilot] were remarking as we were landing that we're really going to miss the Cobra."

The battalion's Cobras bared their fangs for the last time during a two-week joint training exercise with the 3rd Marine Division at Pohakuloa Training Area on the "Big Island," of Hawaii, Jan. 24 - Feb. 5. Six of the unit's AH-1F Cobras flew more than 170 sorties, fired over 10,000 rounds from their 20-millimeter cannons and launched 960 folding-fin aerial rockets during the exercise.

Although 1st Bn., 25th Avn. will not go away, its AH-1Fs will most likely go to the National Guard. It's Kiowas and Hueys will be sold to law enforcement agencies across the nation.

All of the aircraft will be replaced with 24 OH-58D Kiowa Warriors, a revamped version of the Kiowa scout helicopter.

The most notable feature on the Kiowa Warrior is the huge, ball-shaped sight mounted on the mast above the rotor blades. The sight enables the Kiowa Warrior to fight both day and night, at the maximum range of its weapons systems and with minimum exposure of the aircraft.

The changeover from Cobras to Kiowa Warriors will take about 11 months, and the mission of the unit will not change, said Lt. Col. Kelly J. Thomas, commander, 1st Bn., 25th Avn.

Kelly said it was a "beautiful feeling" leading the formation of Cobras on their final journey-by-air.

Kelly, who has flown Cobras for more than 18 years, referred to the retirement of the aircraft by saying, "As we close a chapter in our modernization, we say 'goodbye' to the old and 'hello' to the new."

The Bell AH-1 Cobra helicopter has struck fear in the hearts of the enemy for more than 30 years, according to Army aviators. Its 1967 trial-by-fire introduction to service as the AH-1G in Vietnam immediately provided ground commanders with air superiority without the wait of calling in the Air Force.

The Cobra was supposed to be replaced by the AH-56 Cheyenne helicopter in the late 1970s, however the aircraft never made it to production.

Instead, the AH-1F Cobra, with its proven firepower and maneuverability, went on to fight in every major U.S. military operation since Vietnam.

The Cobra continues its service with the U.S. Marines, as well as eight other foreign nations.

(Editor's note: Spc. Edward Zink is a staff writer for the Hawaii Army Weekly.)