The first AH-1 unit was the 334th Assault Helicopter Company, which was declared operational on October 6, 1967.
The AH-1 Cobra was one of the most used helicopters by the US Army on the Vietnam battlefield. The first six AH-1 armed helicopters arrived at Bien Hoa Air Base, South Vietnam on August 30, 1967 for combat testing by the US Army’s Cobra New Equipment Training Team.
On September 4 of the same year, this helicopter scored its first battle by sinking a sampan boat of Viet Cong soldiers. The first AH-1 unit was the 334th Assault Helicopter Company, which was declared operational on October 6, 1967. The US military then operated Cobra armed helicopters continuously until the US and its allies withdrew from South Vietnam in 1973.
Typically, the AH-1 provided fire support to ground forces and escorted transport helicopters. In addition, the AH-1 performed other roles such as becoming the fighting vehicle of aerial rocket artillery battalions or the Airmobile divisions. The U.S. military also formed “hunter-killer” teams by pairing with OH-6A scout helicopters; a team normally comprised a single OH-6 flying slow and low to find enemy forces. If the OH-6 drew fire, the Cobra could strike at the then revealed enemy.
On September 12, 1968, Captain Ronald Fogleman was flying an F-100 Super Sabre when the aircraft was shot down and he ejected 200 miles (320 km) north of Bien Hoa. Fogleman became the only pilot to be rescued by holding on to an Army AH-1G’s deployed gun-panel door.
Bell built 1,116 AH-1Gs for the U.S. Army between 1967 and 1973, and the Cobras chalked up over a million operational hours in Vietnam; the number of Cobras in service peaked at 1,081. Out of nearly 1,110 AH-1s that were delivered between 1967 and 1973, approximately 300 were lost to a combination of combat and accidents during the conflict. During Operation Lam Son 719 in Southeastern Laos, 26 U.S Army AH-1Gs were destroyed while a further 158 sustained some level of damage.
The U.S. Marine Corps also operated the AH-1G Cobra in Vietnam for a short time before acquiring the twin-engine AH-1J Cobras. The AH-1Gs had been adopted by the Marines as an interim measure, a total of 38 helicopters having been transferred from the U.S. Army to the Marines in 1969.
Throughout the 1990s, the U.S. Army gradually phased out AH-1 Cobra squadrons. And by March 1999, the US had completed the process of eliminating these AH-1s. The US Army then searched for a more capable successor to the AH-1 Cobra. The United States quickly equipped a large fleet of AH-64 Apaches, since receiving the first in early 1984. The AH-1s were subsequently offered to other potential operators, mainly NATO allies.
The Army retired the AH-1 from its reserves in September 2001. The retired AH-1s were then disposed of, often through sales to overseas customers; the final portion of the fleet was liquidated in 2010. Some were also given to the USDA’s Forest Service. The US Marine Corps retired the AH-1W SuperCobra in 2020, and continues to operate the AH-1Z Viper.