Three Tips for Shooting From a Helicopter

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Thanks to the nice folks at Helicopter Tours of Texas, I can now scratch “shoot guns out of a helicopter” off my bucket list. And in two weeks I’ll be scratching off the next item, “shoot machine guns out of a helicopter” as well, thanks to HeliBacon out near Houston. So as I’m preparing for my second go-round poking the muzzle of a gun out of a Robinson, I figured I’d review my notes and share the three most important tips that helped me actually hit targets on the ground from a moving chopper . . .

1. Get your ass outside

The interior of a helicopter, especially the smaller ones, is extremely cramped. There’s barely enough room for you and your gun, let alone enough space to maneuver your rifle and get off a good shot. If you want to have your sights on the target for more than a split second, you’re going to need to leave the comfort of your seat and make your way as far out of the helicopter as you’re comfortable leaning.

When I made my runs in the helicopter in this particular model of Robinson, I found that the most comfortable position was actually to have one foot on the skid and less than a full cheek on the seat. Naturally you’ll want to use the seat belt to keep you from tumbling to your death. But being mostly outside gave me an excellent view of the ground and allowed me to swing the rifle almost to the point where it was aiming straight ahead as we flew.

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2. Don’t Lead — Follow

Physics is awesome, but sometimes the practical application can make your head hurt.

Normally, when you’re shooting a moving target such as a deer or a pig, you need to lead it. The idea is that it will take a split second for the bullet to reach the target, so you want to aim in such a way that the target will run into the bullet’s path just as the bullet arrives. It’s one of the tougher things to learn to do in shooting, but when you have more than one round at your disposal the ability to “bracket” a target (shooting one round behind where you think the proper lead should be, one round at the proper lead, and one round ahead) almost guarantees a hit. Almost.

The issue with shooting out of a helicopter is that in most cases you are moving faster than your target, especially if you’re shooting at a stationary target. So instead of needing to aim such that your target runs into your bullet, you need to aim such that your bullet runs into your target. In other words, you need to aim for a spot on the near side of your target instead of the far side.

For me, when I was making my runs on some stationary steel targets, I found that when we were flying left to right across the set I needed to aim about a foot to the left of the steel plate to hit it. It took some practice to do, but eventually I was singing steel like a champ.

3. Be Polite: Brass Catchers and Silencers

When you’re shooting on the ground or from a car, you don’t have to worry too much about where your spent brass is landing or about annoying the driver. But when you’re thirty feet in the air and speeding along at thirty miles an hour, one stray piece of brass under the rudder pedals or an unexpected muzzle blast in the pilot’s face can mean the difference between “that was awesome” and “oh the humanity.”

Brass catchers are cheap and readily available, and will keep your spent brass from finding their way into the mechanical parts of the complicated flying machine in which you are sitting. According to the guys at Helicopter Tours of Texas, the best brass catchers for this purpose are the kind that mount to the flat top rail of an AR-15, such as this one from Brownells.

Silencers not only allow you to communicate with the other people in the helicopter, but they keep the noise and the muzzle blast from your gun from annoying the pilot. Flying at treetop level takes some skill and concentration, and a face full of exhaust gasses from your gun or even just the report might be enough to break their concentration and return you to the ground a little faster than anticipated. Don’t take the chance — muzzle your muzzle.

comments

  1. avatar William Burke says:

    4. AIM LOW, not high.

    1. avatar John L. says:

      Yes.

    2. avatar Soccerchainsaw says:

      1. Don’t fall out…
      2. Don’t shoot the helicopter or the helicopter driver…
      3. Make sure the helicopter has a full tank of gas…

  2. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    Hmmm. I think rule #1 should be “wear a safety harness, cuz it’s a long way down…” Then you can worry about how far out you hang.

    1. avatar ropingdown says:

      Yep, hook the monkey strap into your harness.

      The odd thing to get used to is that you can actually sit on the floor with your feet outboard, perhaps on the skids depending on the model, and you won’t fall, tethered or not. Pilots generally fly in trim. When they don’t, for example sometimes during a turn, you’ll have centrifugal force holding you in place.

      It is easier to get on target with a machine gun because you can instantly correct your reverse lead by following the tracers. What is really challenging is trying to fly 40mm CS grenades (M79) into cave openings on mountain sides from about 50-70 meters out and doing 70 knots. It is the ultimate test of reverse lead with a slow quick-dropping bullet. It’s like shooting .45-70 at 400 yards while moving.

      1. avatar 2hotel9 says:

        I don’t envy where you had to be, I damned sure envy your trigger time in a whoopwhoop. I had limited training time with firing from choppers and it was AWSOME. The taking fire in one is the complete definition of suckage, though.

        1. avatar ropingdown says:

          Yep. You should email that definition of ‘suckage’ to Websters.

        2. avatar 2hotel9 says:

          Sorry. They said being married to Nanny Pelosi had already been designated as THE definition of suckage, and I could not disagree. I just keep working in from the edges, kinda like Shakespeare. Only without the fame. Or babes. Kinda sux.

  3. avatar darkstar says:

    can mean the difference between “that was awesome” and “oh the humanity.”

    Too damn funny. By the way, I’m tired of hearing about all the cool things you get to do i.e. factory tours, shooting from choppers, etc. Need an assistant?

    1. avatar Heretical Politik says:

      Ditto. Cut it out, or hire me. (I’ll work for free).

    2. avatar KCK says:

      Hindenburg

    3. avatar rosignol says:

      The word is ‘intern’.

      And yes, TTAG needs interns. 😀

  4. Speaking from personal experience… both with the M16 and the M60 — Get a bigger helicopter!!!

    1. avatar jwm says:

      This. Rolling hot in a Prius with a rotor just looks silly.

      1. avatar Wade says:

        That Prius with a rotor (R44) costs $650 an hour, and the next biggest one (an A-star) costs about $2500 an hour, plus the fact that the little robinsons are the most agile helicopters in the world.

        1. avatar Out_Fang_Thief says:

          Not to pick nits, but I thought the MH-6/AH-6 held the most agile helicopter title. We have a tourist outfit here that uses the Robinson’s. I understand that it’s mostly for the cost and cost effectiveness in maintenance p/hrs flown.

          About that machine gun ride, are you going to be climbing into a Huey with a door mount, “Get some!” 50 cal?

        2. avatar ropingdown says:

          Just hope he’s got tracers in the ammo belts, Fang. Otherwise it’s just like a hog randomly rooting a beet field.

    2. avatar ropingdown says:

      Laugh. I have to agree. Or take one seat out and actually sit on the floor.

  5. avatar sven_va says:

    Vacationing in the Hamptons next year?

    1. avatar ropingdown says:

      That really is a good idea. People in the Hamptons envy those who arrive by chopper. And it sure beats a tree stand. I’m starting to think the Hamptons deer problem is really just about people with small acreage enjoying seeing those with extensive gardens, landscaping, get their flowers and shrubs eaten.

      1. avatar Jus Bill says:

        The CHILDREN just LOVE the cute little deers…

  6. avatar Jeff says:

    lose weight, that R-22 is wheezing hard bro

  7. avatar MW says:

    Living the dream.

  8. avatar Hannibal says:

    Use a minigun.

    1. avatar jwm says:

      No such thing as overkill.

    2. avatar DJ says:

      Rrrrrrrrrrrppppp…. And, you’re out of ammo.

      1. avatar Hannibal says:

        Best 8 seconds you’ll have. Wait, I’ve said that before…

  9. avatar RockThisTown says:

    Naturally you’ll want to use the seat belt to keep you from tumbling to your death.

    I’m going out on a limb, but shouldn’t that be Tip #1?

  10. avatar Scott Neves says:

    5. Be in a helicopter.

  11. avatar LongBeach says:

    I’m gonna start a hog hunting company that uses Chinook flying bananas with 8 Ma Deuces on board, crewed by large-chested bikini-clad spotters with IR designators and few (if any) inhibitions. The cost? You pay for ammo, that’s it. I’ll gas it up and pilot it on my own dime, just so I can say I’m the real Pirate of the Skies, replete with bodacious wenches.

    1. avatar LK says:

      When and where do I book at flight at?

    2. avatar ropingdown says:

      Let me guess: Colorado on opening day?

    3. avatar Tominator says:

      Yea, well…I’ll wait til the tickets show up on Stub Hub…;)

  12. avatar Mk10108 says:

    3 tips on shooting helo’s down?

    1. avatar jwm says:

      First tip, don’t try to shoot the large angry ones down.

      1. avatar DJ says:

        They’re all fragile. Even attack helicopters – “flying tanks” makes for a great press release, but plenty of them have been shot down.

        Best cure for a helicopter problem? Fast movers. A helicopter is a sitting duck for a fighter, even an older model.

        There are problems with helicopters, they aren’t that fast, they can’t put armor everywhere (or they won’t fly) and every place there is a moving part, there is a vulnerability.

        All sorts of things can go wrong at the best of times. Start introducing belt fed MGs into the mix and things get festive.

        1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

          My cousin, who made a career in the US Navy of flying helo’s for rescue and transport, had this to say about them:

          “They’re really barely airworthy. They’re more like a random collection of highly machined parts moving in loose formation than an actual aircraft…”

          This, from a guy who got his jollies pulling fast-mover pilots out of the drink in weather conditions too horrible to contemplate, made me think twice about paying for a civilian helo lessons.

        2. avatar 2hotel9 says:

          That reminds me of the guy who did the parachute jump from space, he said it was the last dangerous thing he was doing that he was returning to his day job, alpine rescue chopper pilot in Switzerland.

        3. avatar Hannibal says:

          Aerodynamically speaking, planes are stable while copters… are not so much. If a plane has a power failure it turns into a poor glider (some advanced configs excepted). If a copter loses power it becomes more like a good rock. If you’re lucky the rotor will still be spinning and cause a cushioned landing but the room for error just isn’t there.

        4. avatar 2hotel9 says:

          Been there, done that, sucks balls. BIG time. Brick is a generous “designation”.

        5. avatar jwm says:

          Many years after my military time me and the old man were in Vegas. Non military his whole life the old man had just taken his fist airplane ride to get to Vegas. As we were wandering the strip he found a tourist outfit that offered chopper rides into the Grand Canyon. Like a kid before Christmas he came to me and asked to go on one.

          I told him not only no, but hell no. I told him he could go without me but that I’d given choppers all the chances they were going to get to kill me. Unless one falls on me while I’m stuck in traffic.

          I got Mr. T’s tude about choppers.

      2. avatar 2hotel9 says:

        jwm, I feel you. That said, it is all about your stickman. Good stickman can change your life, brah. Or save it. I confuse those words. Had the privilege of riding with a couple of excellent stickmen in nasty situations. Boo. Yah. Wake up out of a dead sleep with that freefall sensation. Damn.

    2. avatar DJ says:

      Tailrotor, tailrotor, and tailrotor.

      See also “triangular helicopter ambush”

      1. avatar 2hotel9 says:

        Set in the approach run, speed falling, aim into the nose panels below the main wind screen. Fragmentation is a beeatch.

    3. avatar Tominator says:

      The NVA had perfected hitting our copters…..they NEVER aimed at them with small arms….look it up.

      Sarah Palin reads TTAG!

  13. avatar Jim R says:

    Maybe I’m just too damn tired, but my first thought upon reading the title was “Why would I take shooting tips from a helicopter? helicopters don’t know anything about shooting…”

  14. avatar Don says:

    0. Safety harness.

  15. avatar MOG says:

    When pigs fly.

  16. avatar Mark Horning says:

    I thought Rule #1 was fly in a real helicopter not a Robinson. I’ve seen enough R22’s and R44’s go down around here that I’d be pretty nervous flying in one. Give me an MD500 any day.

    1. We have had a MD500 and yet however highly maneuverable (and don’t get me wrong the power is there) it does lack the open view point a R44 has which is important when having shooters in the back. There really hasn’t been a helicopter that does all that we need- but the R44 has been highly effective.

      1. avatar 2hotel9 says:

        Ohhhhhh!!!! You mean a loach. Personally, I prefer a slick when I am firing weapons from the air, but it is cheaper to operate and that is a major consideration for y’all.

        Glad to see companies doing this, spreading the joy of aerial gunnery makes my happy place swell up, with joy. Get your minds out the gutter!

  17. avatar 2hotel9 says:

    No, first tip is be in a real helicopter, not that whirlygig piece of sh*t. And yes, monkey harness clipped directly to a hard point, not the removable seat frame. Other than that, HAVE fun, you’ll figure the rest out after 20 or so rds.

  18. avatar RockOnHellChild says:

    Next week practical shooting tips, shooting when hold up on a bell tower on the lamb from the law.

    1. avatar Jus Bill says:

      Maybe “Shooting from a Hot Air Balloon?”

      1. avatar RockOnHellChild says:

        Splitting a hangin’ rope at 100 yards to stop a posse from hanging your buddy?

      2. avatar 2hotel9 says:

        Actually that would be sweeeeet! Nice and stable. Especially if it was tethered, you could cover a large area and not worry about ending up on some high tension power lines. 😉

  19. avatar Hal J. says:

    Three other tips (from “Full Metal Jacket”)

    1. Anyone who runs is a VC.
    2. Anyone who stands still is a well-disciplined VC.
    3. How can you shoot women or children? Easy! Ya just don’t lead ’em so much!

  20. avatar Brad says:

    Great post! I want to do this so bad.

  21. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    Hawt dawg.
    Where else, but in Texas.
    Jealousy slaps me in the face again. Hahahahaha

  22. avatar IdahoPete says:

    May I add one? Keep the muzzle pointed down. Do NOT put holes in the rotor blades.

    1. avatar 2hotel9 says:

      A+ The man with the controls in his hands does tend to get soggy and hard to light when chunks of the main rotor start pealing off.

  23. avatar Edward Teach says:

    Get some! Get some!

  24. avatar JoelT says:

    Did you have anyone in a ridiculously under-powered handgun step out from behind cover and shoot a few well placed shots at your helicopter to bring it down while you sprayed bullets at him?

  25. avatar Nagurski says:

    FYI your point of impact will be completely different depending on what side of the helicopter you are shooting from. With your standard American style helicopters (the rotor spins counter clockwise) you have to aim high on the right side and low on the left. If you are in something like a Puma or a MI-8 I assume it will be opposite (clockwise rotor). FM 1-140 will tell you more than you ever need to know about helicopter gunnery.

    http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/policy/army/fm/1-140/AA.HTM

    1. avatar 2hotel9 says:

      I actually have that tome in my collection of dubiously useful books.

    2. avatar FunWithPaul says:

      It has nothing to do with rotor direction. That document makes the distinction about aim point, depending on whether YOU are traveling (faster than the target) from right to left or left to right.

  26. I work for Helicopter Tours of Texas and just to let everyone know we have our first SATURDAY AirOps COURSE on August 16, 2014. It starts at 1pm and usually is about 4 hours testing your shooting skills with motion simulation and then in a helicopter with your chance with three passes to shoot the steel targets laid out. Highly recommended for those interested in learning and getting the feel of shooting from a helicopter. email me. rstrean23@gmail.com if you want to register for this class.

    1. avatar 2hotel9 says:

      I think I love you. Do you clean and cook game&fish? I ain’t got no problem washing dishes.

  27. avatar solomon loop says:

    Gunshithelicopters.com

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