Speed Week: riding in Red Bull's 1800bhp attack helicopter
It costs £7m new. It'll do 218mph. It has missiles. We hitch a lift
IT’s Speed Week’s priciest entrant. At around £7 million new, it’s equivalent to filling your dream garage with all 19 cars here. Twice.
But you get what you pay for. The thing isn’t even moving and we’ve regressed back to schoolboy impishness, mouths agape as we produce an identical set of pictures on each of our cameraphones. Even Bruno Senna scampers over, grinning like an idiot as he finds more and more details to throw at Instagram. Missile buttons! Gunner controls! Smoke cannons!
Impossibly narrow yet impressively long, the Bell Cobra TAH-1F is a bewitching thing from every angle, emanating devastating potential despite the fact it’s been neutered by Red Bull branding. Its role has morphed from weapon of war to entertainer, as one of the 19 various aircraft and helicopters that comprise the Jägerbomb host drink’s ‘Flying Bulls’ collection.Advertisement - Page continues below
While smaller choppers carry out the stunts – pilot Siegfried ‘Blacky’ Schwarz using one to backflip himself into the helicopter aerobatics record books – the Cobra is all about noise and speed, its 218mph maximum available from as little as 10cm above the ground.
The Cobra was the first attack helicopter to place the pilot’s seat behind and above the rifleman’s, yielding vantage points that allowed them to swap roles. It entered service in the late Sixties, earning its stripes in Vietnam, acting as air support for ground operations as well as partnering the Scout observation chopper as the deadly half of a ‘hunter/killer’ team. Pacifist? Take solace in the more recent Cobra speciality of forest fire fighting.
Today, it’s faced the more obscure task of hosting Rowan and his camera, hovering metres above 18 moving cars. Oh, and a race against the McLaren, narrowly losing to the stopwatch but winning the hearts and gasps of the watching crowd.
It’s all in a day’s work for Blacky, who tours the world doing bonkers things in helicopters, an enviable career step after chopper training in the army and 21 years of mountain rescues. “Yeah. I have a good job,” is his crushing understatement. I’ve spoken to him for about four minutes, which I class as adequate niceties before saying: “Can I have a go, please?”Advertisement - Page continues below
And so I’m in the rifleman’s seat, instinctively using the international pointy finger signal for ‘helicopter take-off’ while avoiding an inadvertent shoeing of the ominously accessible floor pedals.
After demonstrating the Cobra’s ability to nosedive at near 90-degree angles from bum-quivering altitudes, Blacky carries out a fast lap of the circuit. Christ, this is quick: memories of eye-widening runs up the back straight in the Nismo GT-R crumble as we barrel along before the necessary, dramatic climb up to and around the awkwardly tight second turn.
It’s gobsmacking, grin firmly fixed behind the furry-ball microphone of my three-sizes-too-big helmet as we power round, the whirlybird’s-eye view revealing just how imperfect my cornering lines were in mere motorcars.
The most astonishing thing? It’s all balletic, with none of the funny-tummy rollercoaster feeling I’d bargained for. Blacky’s right – it’s all noise and speed, and everyone’s smitten by it. Seven mill? Worth every penny.