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TOW launch

Although some Marine Cobras carry the deadly Hellfire, most AH-1s rely on the TOW missile. As soon as it has been fired out of its tube, small spring-loaded wings and fins pop out of the missile's body, allowing it to fly to its target.

Rapid turnaround

When it is out of missiles, the Cobra can be rearmed in minutes by a well-drilled ground team. The TOW missiles are prepacked in their launch tubes and are strapped straight onto the helicopter.

FACTS AND FIGURES

▶ The AH-1 first flew on September 7, 1965; new Cobras are being produced today.

▶ Building a Cobra requires 38,500 hours of factory-worker time.

▶ In Operation Desert Storm, four Marine squadrons flew 1,000 missions, including one that destroyed 60 tanks.

▶ The Cobra's stub wing provides some of the lift that keeps it in the air.

▶ Cobra pilots use night vision goggles and electronic sensors to fight in darkness and bad weather.

▶ The AH-1W Whiskey Cobra's cannon fires a depleted uranium shell.

ADVENTURES IN FLIGHT

Vietnam Phantom

▶ Vietnam warrior

▶ Fighter and bomber

▶ MiG-killer supreme

The Phantom broke all the rules. Fighters were supposed to be small, sleek single-seaters with guns. The Phantom was huge and had bent wings, a two-man crew and missile armament. It looked wrong, but it flew right. Strapped inside Phantom cockpits over Vietnam, naval aviators fought MiGs in raging air combat. Although there were some early problems, the Phantom came out on top almost every time.

Lt. Randy Cunningham and his RIO Lt. Willie Driscoll scored their third, fourth and fifth kills on May 10, 1972, to become the Navy's only aces of the war in Southeast Asia.

U.S. Navy MiG-killers

Few human exploits compare with fighting in the F-4 Phantom. The big, powerful machine gave both pilot and radar officer the ride of their lives, blasting aloft with twice as much power as other fighters and going into battle armed to the teeth. Designed as a U.S. Navy carrier-based fighter, the Phantom became a jack-of-all-trades, doing many jobs so well that no other warplane met its standard.

With its far-reaching radar, the Phantom was meant to spot the enemy from a great distance and take him clown with a radar-guided missile. It did not always work that way. A small, nimble fighter like the MiG-17 could pose a real danger to the Phantom if it got close enough.

The Phantom was both a fighter and a bomber, capable of unleashing up to 16,000 pounds of bombs. Further, if challenged in the air, the Phantom could fight back. Not surprisingly, the U.S. Navy's air aces in Vietnam flew the Phantom.

"Showtime 100" was the Phantom used by Randy Cunningham and Willie Driscoll on May 10, 1972, to score their three kills. The last was an epic battle against Colonel Tomb, reputedly the leading North Vietnamese ace. On the way home, "Showtime 100" took a SAM hit forcing the crew to bail out over the sea, but they were rescued safely.

F-4J Phantom

By 1972, when Cunningham and Driscoll flew this aircraft to their three MiG victories, the F-4J was the standard shipboard fighter for the U.S. Navy. Because of its size, it could only fly from the larger carriers and could not fit on the small "Essex"-class ships.

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