• AH-1Z Viper From Area 51

    Review: AH-1Z Viper From Area 51

    By Bill Stack (28 July 2010)

    Screen shots by Area 51

    Based on the AH-1 Super Cobra, the AH-1Z Viper is a twin-engine attack helicopter developed for and used by the United States Marine Corps. The AH-1Z features new rotor technology with upgraded military avionics, weapons systems, and electro-optical sensors in an integrated weapons platform. It can find targets at longer ranges and attack them with precision weapons, and it has improved survivability.

    These specifications are taken from Wikipedia:

    • Crew: One pilot and one copilot/gunner
    • Useful load: 5,764 lbs (2,620 kg)
    • Cruise speed: 160 KTS
    • Range: 370 nautical miles
    • Service ceiling: 20,000 feet (6,100 meters)
    • Armament:
      • One three-barrelled 20 millimeter Gatling gun
      • Seven to 19 70-millimeter rockets, depending on mounting configuration
      • Up to 18 air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles

    Area 51, a developer of military aircraft for Microsoft Flight Simulator has released models of this attack helicopter for FS2004 and FSX. I reviewed the FSX model.

    Prior Area 51 products include the C-5M Galaxy, the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, and the AH-1S Cobra

    Area 51 lists these among other features of its AH-1Z Viper:

    • Very high detail exterior and interior
    • Photoreal textures, including bump maps
    • 2D Panel
    • Flight manual

    "The powerful AH-1Z delivers state of the art dynamics, weapons and avionics to incorporate the latest in survivability. With anti-armor capability, it engages and defeats the broadest array of threats at standoff ranges that defy imagination," the product description says.


    U.S. Marines U.S. Marines (Rockets) U.S. Marines (Empty)
    Screen shots by Bill Stack


    Instant download from the Pilot Shop


    Installation program


    License key required


    Copyright acknowledgment required


    Manual included


    Checklists & reference included


    Uninstall program included


    Visual Features

    Area 51's AH-1Z Viper is accurate and realistic compared with photos I found on the Internet inside and out. All exterior shapes and equipment are there. Rivets and metal seams are all clearly visible in all views. The textures and reflections are also very realistic. Its cockpit and instrument panel look like the real thing. There is no loss of frame rates despite the high level of visual detail inside and out.


    Screen shots by Bill Stack

    Technical Features

    The archive file contains versions for FS2004 and FSX, yet it's small enough to download quickly.

    The installation program installs all needed files into Microsoft Flight Simulator ® in less than a minute. It creates and uses a subfolder named "Area51Sim Ah-1Z Viper" under a subfolder called "Rotorcraft."

    It includes a 2D instrument panel in addition to the 3D cockpit. Some simmers don't care about 2D panels, and others like them.

    Sound files are unique to this model, and they seem realistic for such an aircraft.

    Screen shots by Bill Stack

    Flight Modeling

    To be at sea level, I flew my test flights out of Cherry Point MCAS (KNKT) in North Carolina, and I set weather to standard atmosphere. I took off, flew around, climbed a few thousand feet, returned to the airport, and landed. I also simulated an attack against a hapless private boat in the coastal waters near Cherry Point.

    Compared with other helicopters, Area 51's AH-1Z Viper is fairly easy to fly. Anybody who has flown a real helicopter or has simulated helicopter flight knows that it's like balancing a spinning plate on one finger. Slight changes on any axis will immediately and dramatically affect the helicopter's performance. This helicopter is no different. It seems to fly a lot like a Bell Jet Ranger. The flight-model file does not reference the Jet Ranger, so we can assume that its flight modeling is unique.

    This helicopter will climb straight up for a while, then it seems to stall and behave strangely. It yaws, pitches, banks, and generally fumbles around. This behavior probably results from cavitation, which basically is a loss of supporting air pressure under the rotors from their downwash. Therefore, I had to climb while moving forward. Nothing is unusual about this.

    It maintains straight and level flight for as long as the pilot can hold on to the controls. Like any helicopter, it requires constant adjustment of controls to account for winds and torque.

    Turns are easy in this rotorcraft, and it loses altitude right away when banked, as expected.

    Assuming that an attack helicopter attacks targets, I simulated attack mode by flying toward ground and sea targets through an imaginary attack and flew away from the target to avoid debris fields. This helicopter responds to pilot input quickly and under complete control during such maneuvers.

    Typical descents are easy. Simply reduce power slightly, and it gradually loses altitude. Once the desired altitude is attained, increased power resumes straight and level flight.

    Approaching for landing is easy, also. It follows the runway centerline easily and adapts to pilot controls readily and without fuss.

    Landing is a different story for me. I've always found helicopters difficult to land, and I don't have as much experience with them as I have with fixed-wing aircraft. My landings in this helicopter were about as bad as my landings in a Jet Ranger. Maybe it lands easily for people with enough experience. Everything else about it is easy.


    Screen shots by Bill Stack

    Operational Information

    The one-page manual in Adobe Acrobat (PDF) format provides keyboard commands for starting and stopping the engines and operating the doors. It also shows the keyboard commands for folding and extending wings, which applies to the FS2004 version only.

    There are no checklists or reference sheets, and the one-page manual says nothing about how to fly this aircraft. Basic information such as cruising speed and altitude are available in the description box of the Aircraft Selection menu. Without better guidance, sim pilots are on their own to learn how to fly this aircraft from their trials and errors. Nonetheless, it's a good product for flight simmers seeking to simulate military combat operations in FS2004 or FSX.

    Screen shot by Bill Stack

    Doors Open

    Doors Open

    Attacking a Boat
    Screen shot by Bill Stack

    More Information

    Information about the real AH-1Z Viper can be found at these websites, among others:

    Bell Helicopter

    Army Technology



    Area 51's AH-1Z Viper is a unique aircraft for the noncombat MSFS. It looks great and handles easily. Information about correct operations would be helpful, without which simmers must learn from trial and error. The price is reasonable, nonetheless, and it's a good value for simmers who want to add combat-type operations to their noncombat simulators.

    Bill Stack

    Learn More About Area 51's AH-1Z Viper

    Reviews Of Other Area 51 Products:

    C-5M Super Galaxy

    Bill Stack is author of several books about flight simulation, a regular author in flight-sim magazines, and a contributor to Flight Sim Com. His website is www.topskills.com

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