The U.S. Marines Threw Open the ‘Barn’ and Launched a Whole Bunch of Attack Helicopters
‘Flying the barn’ is a rare opportunity to fly lots of choppers
by TOM DEMERLY
On Nov. 4, 2016, U.S. Marines from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369 took part in an exercise known as “flying the barn” at Camp Pendleton in California.
“Flying the barn” is slang for putting every aircraft at a base up in the air at once — a rare sight at any military installation.
During the exercise, HMLA-369 launched a unique assault formation including the latest AH-1Z Viper attack helicopter and UH-1Y Venom tactical transport. Twenty helicopters in all.
Back in 1972 during the Vietnam War, HMLA-369 was the first Marine Corps unit to fly the Cobra attack chopper in combat.
The recent formation is especially interesting, as the Marines are the only operators of the Viper and Venom. These aircraft are descendants of the Vietnam War-vintage AH-1 Cobra and UH-1 Huey helicopters.
The continued operation of these two greatly evolved platforms might seem at odds with new aircraft now in use by the U.S. Marines, the MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor and the F-35B Lightning II stealth fighter.
In fact, the AH-1Z and UH-1Y share only a few basic design elements with their 1960s forebears.
The AH-1Z flies on a new carbon fiber composite four-blade rotor system with 75 percent fewer moving parts in the vulnerable rotor mast — this despite the Viper having two additional blades compared to early Cobra gunships.
The Viper gunships boast larger winglet weapon stations that can mount AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared-guided air-to-air missiles in addition to air-to-ground rockets and guided anti-tank missiles.
The AH-1Z also has reshaped engine cowlings that reduce infrared signature and help reduce the chopper’s vulnerability to heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles.
Viper flight crews wear an advanced flight helmet that’s integrated with the aircraft’s avionics and features enhanced night vision and target queuing.
The UH-1Y is an adaptation of the legacy Huey platform, but with massive upgrades making it essentially a new helicopter.
Also updated with a large, four-blade rotor, the Venom boasts battle-damage-resistant composite blades and a new, simplified mast system. The rotor upgrades provide significantly greater lift, range and speed.
Although usually operated in conjunction with the AH-1Z , the UH-1Y can carry its own ground-attack weapons. The Venom can mount 2.75-inch rocket pods that are compatible with the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System laser-guided rocket.
Vipers and Venoms are common sights around Camp Pendleton. Just drive between San Diego and Los Angeles on Interstate 5 … and keep your eyes open.
Originally published at The Aviationist on Jan. 4, 2017.