Bahrain 2012: Cobra still striking for Bahrain
At the show the Royal Bahraini Air Force is taking the opportunity to show off its helicopter types, including examples of the Agusta Bell AB212 (the Huey of Vietnam war fame), the MBB Bo 105, the new Sikorsky UH-60M, and the Bell AH-1 Cobra gunship (pictured).
Bahrain received an initial batch of eight AH-1Es and six TAH-1P trainers beginning in 1994, with another batch of 16 AH-1Es following in 1997. About 22 of these now equip the 8th and 9th Helicopter Squadrons, based at Rifa’a, forming a light attack force that can justifiably claim to be one of the best in the business, as Major Rakan Ateytalla, an instructor pilot attached to the unit, explained.
“Even compared to other attack helicopter squadrons, I think that our professionalism, proficiency and standards are extraordinary. We are very strict, flying-wise, and tactically very advanced. When I sat down with our American colleagues I was very happy with our standards, and I think that they were surprised and impressed at how well organised we are, how well we achieve our missions, and how well trained we are.”
This should perhaps come as no surprise, since the Royal Bahraini Air Force Cobra squadrons represent something of an elite force. “Attack helicopter pilots need discipline, knowledge and excellent crew co-ordination skills,” Major Ateytalla said, “and we demand very, very high standards and very accurate, very professional pilots”.
All Cobra pilots must first complete a tour on the MBB Bo105 or the Huey before starting some two years of training on the Cobra.
Bahrain has no requirement to replace its Cobras, which meet RBAF requirements very well. Many RBAF pilots believe that the USMC concept of using a mix of light and heavy attack helicopters together is well suited to Bahraini conditions, and the RBAF continues to augment its Cobras by using Hueys in the heavy attack role.