One after another, Marines from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Training Squadron (HMLAT) 303, Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 39, lined up on the flight line at Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton, California, to send off the last 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) AH-1W “Super Cobra” as it departed on its final flight, Feb. 6, to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base’s Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) in Arizona.
Since its activation on April 30, 1982, HMLAT-303 has trained Cobra and Huey pilots for the Marine Corps and Navy in an extensive training syllabus including: familiarization, navigation, ordnance, terrain, formation, instrument and night vision goggle flight.
While HMLAT-303 doesn’t deploy as a training squadron, the AH-1W has a long history of deploying with other HMLA squadrons in support of Operation Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and is currently still operational with MAG-29 on the East Coast. Until the recent completion of the AH-1W transition to the AH-1Z, HMLAT-303 maintained the last AH-1Ws within 3rd MAW to train refresher pilots for MAG-29.
“The majority of the Cobra instructor cadre at HMLAT-303 grew up with the AH-1W at their first squadron and deployed with it,” said Capt. J. J. Pierce, HMLAT-303 adjutant and transitioned AH-1Z “Viper” pilot. “Having known that the AH-1W was going to be phased out for a while now, the cadre are excited about the new capabilities with the AH-1Z and welcome the change. It’s been special flying the legacy AH-1W, and they definitely played a huge part in the Marine air-ground task force.”
In addition to flight training, HMLAT-303 is the only Marine Corps squadron tasked with training newly designated Naval Aviators destined to become AH-1W, AH-1Z, and UH-1Y replacement, refresher and conversion pilots while simultaneously managing the fleet-wide Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization (NATOPS) standardization program for the H-1.
According to Capt. John T. Fischer, an AH-1Z Weapons and Tactics Instructor with HMLAT-303, the AH-1Z Viper has a significantly higher maximum gross weight due to the improved engines and four-bladed rotor system when compared to the AH-1W; meaning more power available. This increase in power available permits the AH-1Z to carry an increased ordnance payload to the fight.
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