Kit No. 5A-45
Decals: Two versions – both U.S. Marine Corps Attack Squadrons
Comments: Engraved panel lines and raised rivet detail; includes pilot and weapons officer figures; armament includes 7- and 19-shot 2.75 inch rocket pods, and long-barrelled 20mm Gatling gun; aftermarket decals recommended
Aftermarket Parts: Cobra Company resin cockpit for AH-1; Master Model M197 20mm three-barrelled rotary cannon; 1/72 Korean War USMC Skyraider markings by Euro Deca
The Bell AH-1, the world’s first dedicated combat helicopter, took its maiden flight on September 7, 1965, and arrived in South Vietnam in 1967. The “HueyCobra” or simply “Cobra,” as it came to be known, came about as a result of the Army recognizing how vulnerable its troop-carrying helicopters were to ground fire in Southeast Asia, where conventional warfare had given way to an open-ended counterinsurgency campaign. In one extreme example, an enterprising Viet Cong with a bow and arrow single-handedly downed a helicopter by getting directly beneath it and shooting an arrow up through the arc of the rotor blade. The tail of the arrow had a rope tied to it — and at the other end of the rope was a rock. This stone-age weapon tangled in the rotor blades and forced the helicopter down within seconds.
While the AH-1 may initially have seemed to represent only a minor step forward, since 85 percent of its parts were identical to those found in the earlier UH-1 “Huey,” it was in fact a milestone in the development of military helicopters, being the first to be specifically designed as a gunship. In May 1968, the U.S. Marine Corps ordered the AH-1J Sea Cobra for use in Southeast Asia, where their principal helicopter gunship was the Huey, which had been specially modified in the field for that purpose. The Marines wanted a twin-engine version of the AH-1G, based on a desire for improved safety for over-water operations. The Marines needed dedicated attack helicopters to provide frequent close-in fire support coordination in ground escort operations. Such support was never needed more than during amphibious ship-to-shore movements such as those in the Mekong Delta, and subsequent shore operations within the target area. The Sea Cobra was also used for fire suppression at landing and extraction zones, armed reconnaissance, target marking for other attack aircraft (usually jets), and armed helicopter escort.
The AH-1J featured the Pratt and Whitney Twinpac T-400 engine (two 900-hp turboshaft engines coupled together) giving an overall increase in power. It also replaced the AH-1G’s 7.62mm mini-gun with a new chin turret gun featuring the visibly longer three-barrel XM197 20mm cannon, a lightweight model of the widely used M61 cannon with 750 rounds in a drum housed in the fuselage. An inhibition system limited individual bursts to 16 shells, reducing the likelihood of overheating or jamming. Other armament was similar to that of the AH-1G: a battery of 2.75 inch rockets in either four 7-shot LAU-61 rocket pods, four 19-shot LAU-68 rocket pods, or two of each, as depicted by the model above and below. While development and production of the first 49 AH-1J’s ordered were under way, the Marines obtained 38 AH-1Gs from the Army during 1969.
The AH-1J differed from the AH-1G in other important ways, as the Marines liked the -G, but felt it required further modification for their purposes. The aircrew stations were no longer rigidly delineated, since both crew stations in the -J’s tandem cockpit had full flight control as well as fire control systems, meaning that both the pilot and the weapons officer could fly the helicopter and handle the weapons, enhancing the survivability of both in combat.
The AH-1J’s avionics were considerably different from that of the -G, featuring a package of Navy-compatible electronic equipment that included a UHF command set, an FM tactical set, a Tactical Air Navigation (TACAN) system, geosynchrous compass, Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) transponder, radar altimeter, and radar beacon. The Marines ultimately got what they wanted, but not without some resistance, for the original plans for the -J had not been laid with Marine Corps specifications in mind — in fact, the -J was initially intended to have a single engine like its predecessor.
But resistance to the Marines’ desire for a mission-specific Cobra that reflected their needs ended when reports of Tet Offensive actions made their way back to the Pentagon, indicating that several Marine UH-1E Huey gunships had been knocked out in heavy fighting before the situation stabilized.
The first AH-1J’s arrived in Vietnam in February 1971, and began to build a record justifying the vision of a dedicated attack helicopter first conceived at the Army’s Aviation School at Fort Rucker, Alabama in the mid-1950’s. By the 1980’s, the Cobra had evolved into an extremely effective fighting machine.
Since I chose an aftermarket resin cockpit by Cobra Company, construction began with using a razor saw to separate the large tandem cockpit, seats and instrument panels from their resin blocks. Once this was done and the parts were cleaned up, I painted them with grey primer. Extensive painting of the cockpit components followed, using Humbrol and Model Master enamels. Note: For a complete preview of this kit, click here.
Using the aftermarket Master Model 20mm gun involved combining kit parts with the aftermarket metal gun barrels, which comprised the entire aftermarket kit. Once they were assembled, fitting the metal gun barrels into the kit turret posed a challenge, for the rear of the barrels which are cemented into a circular metal plate, needed to be attached to another vertically arranged plate of some kind (not provided by Fujimi) to protrude from the turret at the correct angle.
I cut a small square of sheet plastic and sanded it down so that it would fit inside the turret. Then I used JB Weld two-part epoxy to attach the assembled and painted aftermarket barrels (airbrushed with primer and then Model Master acrylic Gun Metal) to the square of sheet plastic. I airbrushed the turret in acrylic Marine Corps Green (also by Model Master) before completing the gun assembly. When the epoxy had dried, I cemented the gun barrels into the turret, against using JB Weld, by attaching the other side of the square of sheet plastic, fixed vertically inside the turret, to kit part A17.
With the cockpit parts painted, the seats, instrument panels, control sticks and sections of armor plate had to be cemented in. As all these parts were resin, cyanoacrylate glue was used throughout. Two parts not provided by Cobra Company are the control yokes — these will have to be borrowed from the Fujimi kit. The control yoke for the gunner/weapons officer in the forward cockpit seems a bit oversized, so I replaced it with a main landing gear from the spares box, cut and sanded to duplicate the dog leg in the gunner’s control yoke. Should you opt to use the control yoke, its head (with the handles) should be cut, turned 90 degrees and then cemented back onto the top of the control column to accurately depict the original, based on photos in Squadron’s Walk Around book of the AH-1 Cobra.
Once the cockpit and gun turret were finished, the kit began to come together rapidly. After dry fitting the resin cockpit several times to be sure it could be positioned as well as the kit version it replaced, and that the fuselage of the Cobra could close properly around it, I cemented it in place. I cemented a small rectangular section of sheet plastic to the right half of the fuselage to provide a support for the bottom of the resin cockpit, to ensure it rested at the correct angle as the cyanoacrylate glue dried.
It is also important to place a nose weight of some kind directly beneath the cockpit at this stage so that the assembled helicopter will not rest on its tail. I used a magnet, cemented into the opening immediately behind the Sea Cobra’s chin turret and beneath the gunner’s position in the cockpit. Do not forget to insert (and not cement) the shaft for the secondary rotor (part B13) through the opening in the extreme end of the tail before closing the fuselage up.
The large engine housing is cemented on next, and presents no problems, requiring only a bit of putty along the seam where its two halves are cemented together. The only real challenge was the rocket pods, which required a fair amount of putty to hide their seams. A key part used to cement the main rotor blades together went missing during construction, and I had to fall back on both my drafting and scratchbuilding skills to fashion a new one from sheet plastic and parts from the spares box.
The Sea Cobra was airbrushed in overall Marine Corps Green, a Model Master acrylic. The rotor blades are Model Master acrylic Gunmetal with Flat Yellow tips. The band on the tail boom is Orange Yellow, a Polly Scale acrylic. The rocket pods are Tamiya White, and a Humbrol enamel was brush-painted on for the bare metal ends of each pod.
I used the kit markings, which despite their age were intact and had not suffered much oxidation. They had a nice semi-gloss sheen to them and held up extremely well against the repeated, liberal applications of decal solvent that were necessary to get some of them to lay down snugly against the airframe’s multitude of raised rivets. However, they were not all in full register, and white outlines are visible on some of them. The only exception was the “Marines” markings on either side of the tail boom.
The white writing on the kit decals for these markings had yellowed somewhat, so I replaced them with Marines markings from a 1/72 scale set for the A-1D Skyraider by Euro Decals, Set No. ED72-107. This was a good decision, although these markings are slightly larger than the kits Marines decals, as these turned out to be high quality markings that adhered well with enough applications of solvent. The only issue with the Fujimi markings, and the only reason I recommend aftermarket replacements, was that they had a tendency to silver around the edges, and no amount of solvent
would cure this.
This is a great kit from the Vietnam era and has no major fit problems whatsoever, assembling with great ease. The real time-consuming part of construction were the aftermarket components. Overall it looks quite accurate to the naked eye. In addition to the aftermarket cockpit and 20mm gun that I made use of, I strongly recommend aftermarket decals and if you can find them, resin rocket pods. Highly recommended.
- AH-1 HueyCobra: Osprey Combat Aircraft Series No. 9 by Lindsay Peacock; Copyright 1987 by Osprey Publishing Limited, London
- Flight: The Complete History by R.G. Grant; D.K. Publishing, New York, 2002, pp. 299-301.
- Walk Around No. 29: AH-1 Cobra by Wayne Mutza; Copyright 2002 by Squadron Signal Publications, Carrollton, Texas