AH-1Z Viper Was Participating in USMC Weapons and Tactics Instructor’s Course.
Two U.S. Marines, Maj. Matthew M. Wiegand, 34, of Ambler, Pennsylvania, and Capt. Travis W. Brannon, 30, of Nashville, Tennessee, have been identified as the crew who died in an AH-1Z Viper two-seat attack helicopter crash on Saturday, March 30, 2019 at approximately 2045 Hrs. local time in the Marine Corps Air Station Yuma training grounds.
Journalist Shawn Snow quoted USMC Col. Kelvin W. Gallman, commanding officer of Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One, from an official command release published in the Marine Corps Times that said, ““We join the families of Maj. Wiegand and Capt. Brannon in mourning the loss of a loved one. Our most valued assets are the individual Marines and our primary focus is supporting the families during this difficult time.”
According to news reports, the aircraft and its crew were participating in the U.S. Marine Weapons and Tactics Instructor’s Course 2-19 managed by Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron-One (MAWTS-1) at the time of the crash. The cause of the crash is under investigation.
According to official U.S. Marine media, “The Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course (WTI) is a seven-week period of instruction, hosted by Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One at Yuma, Arizona, that incorporates Marine Corps planning and implementation of advanced air and ground tactics through a series of escalating evolutions in order to produce certified Weapons and Tactics Instructors. Weapons and Tactics Instructors serve as squadron training officers who use their skills to act as aircraft and weapons subject matter experts to provide their units with proper training and evaluation to ensure exceptional combat readiness.”
The aircraft that crashed was a Bell AH-1Z Viper attack helicopter. The AH-1Z Viper is an advanced, significantly updated version of the original AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter that first flew in 1965 and saw extensive service with the U.S. Army during the Vietnam conflict. The updated AH-1Z Viper first flew in December, 2000 and features an all-new, bearing-less four-bladed rotor system as well as completely updated cockpits, avionics and weapons carriage, targeting and delivery systems.
The AH-1Z Viper has a relatively good safety record considering its mission of low-level, often night time close air support of Marines on the ground. The last significant incident with AH-1Z Viper helicopters was a 2012 accident when 7 Marines died in a midair collision between and older version AH-1W Super Cobra (predecessor to the AH-1Z Viper) and a UH-1Y Venom utility helicopter in the Chocolate Mountains region of California.