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Shoot from Helo Policies


24Xray
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Anyone here work for a department that has a policy allowing firing from a helicopter in flight? I understand San Bernardino County Sheriff's department in Ca. has one and they have used it. Just curious how many departments have that. If so, was there particular incident that justified it in the future or was it decided upon after studing training scenerios?
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Right after the infamous "West Hollywood Shootout" a couple of years ago, we were asked to study the possibility of carrying .308 caliber rifles and shooting from the helicopter.  I will start off by saying this is MY opinion only and I do not condemn officers or agencies that have come to a different conclusion.  Each situation is unique and obviously you cannot think of every possible scenario.   My operation is in an area that is 95% urban.  There are not many areas that are not heavily populated with tons of people everywhere.  Obviously we are responsible legally and morally for every round we fire.  That means you have to be very sure of what is behind your target and account for any errant rounds, ricochets etc.  Factor in you are shooting from a moving object and it makes it very difficult to even be in the proper position to fire without un-do hazard to innocent bystanders.  You also have to take into account the fact that you are probably going to be equally armed with the suspect.  He has a high-powered rifle and so do you.  That means as soon as the suspect is in range YOU are too.  Take the best scenario.  He is standing all alone in the middle of the desert.  He is out in the open and has nothing for cover.  He is 6' 200 lbs.  Your target is VERY small and you have to try to stabilize your sights in a vibrating, cramped, moving helicopter, good luck hitting your suspect because it will not be easy.  Now as you are approaching your suspect for the perfect shot, he is standing on stable ground with nothing to hinder his taking slow perfect aim at your helicopter.  By the way your helicopter has a rotor diameter of 30 feet not to mention the fuselage that is probably another 20' long by 6-7 feet wide.  You are a much BIGGER target than he is and much easier to hit.  Obviously it gets even worse if he is hiding behind a rock, a tree, a car etc.  I know it has been done in the past, but I have never heard of anyone actually hitting the suspect.  I know they "killed" a few cars which made the suspect stop and that can be very helpful in ending the chase.

 

All in all we found that the operational concerns far out weighed the benefits in our situation.  Again this is MY opinion only based on my experiences over the last 10 years in this business.  Other areas or operations will have different circumstances and may come to a different conclusion.

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The chances of firing a single accurate shot from a helo is not possible. Firing multiple rounds from a fully automatic rifle is the only real way to hit a target. The suspect would have to be in an open area like a large deserted field or parking lot for it to be done safely. I have heard of the suspects cars being killed but never a suspect. Apparently the bullets lose to much velocity over the distance.  The military has defferent SOPs and tactics so it works for them.
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Never having fired a rifle from a helicopter, take this with some salt...

 

I can't imagine you'd be stable enough using a powerful enough rifle to do the job, yet accurate enough to be safe.

 

Full auto weapons like an MP-5 or AR-15 would work, but then you'd only be able to shoot at very remote targets.

 

One possible option would be to mount a 20mm cannon that uses a computer controlled and stabilized firing system, you pick the target on the computer screen and it locks onto the heat source (FLIR I suppose), and you fire off a single round (rather than auto like in a Cobra).

 

Then you're just like the military, but do we really want that?  Sure, sometimes, but I can also see a lot of problems with it.

 

The military can fire off missiles and machine guns/cannon in a battle because they are far less legally responsable for what they hit in a time of war.

 

Oh, whoops, they hit a bus with 50 civilians in it by mistake with that Hellfire II missile?  Oh well, it happens.  People accept that in war, but they would not accept it here in America in peace time.  (obviouslly that is an extreme example, just meant to make a point)

 

:)

 

Jason

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I think they should just put a small pistol on a r/c helicopter that has a camara, a cop could control it from a van or something with a moniter, fly all crazy all the way up to the suspect and shoot him

 

Heck you dont even need the gun, just run the main rotor into him.  Now theres an idea!  No risk to civilians, no risk to police, only to that 800 dollar helicopter!

 

:D

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I'm not a law enforcement officer, and I've only been a heli pilot for about a year (recreational flying as civilian).  However, I have more trigger time in helicopters than I do as a PIC (prior military).

 

Having said that, it is IMPOSSIBLE to accurately engage point targets with any predictable results.  The only targets that should be engaged from the air are area targets.  Specifically, you can probably place well-aimed supressive fire in small areas to keep the bad guys busy long enough for SWAT to take them out.

 

To clarify, point targets are those you can place a round center-mass.  Area targets are those you would engage that are outide the maximum effective range of the weapon for point targets, but are still effective at making life difficult for the bad guys (keep their heads down).

 

Obviously, this isn't something you would employ in downtown Chicago or L.A.  Therefore, that type of supressive fire isn't effective in an urban environment (unless you don't care about collateral damage).

 

For civilian applications, you MIGHT be able to deliver flash munitions (Mark-19 40mm Tear Gas Rounds or Concussion Grenades), but I doubt it.  Maybe you could fire rubber bullets or something.  Nevertheless, I agree with the more experienced folks above.  Why the heck would you bring a BIG target in range of bad guys unless you were on the offensive.  I wouldn't want to be on that aircraft if I had a choice.  Just my opinion.

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Here's the story I'm familar with: There was a horribly violent pursuit. The suspect was deliberatly ramming civilian and law enforcement vechicles. The suspect drove into a truck stop. The helo transmitted 'All officers pull out. We're opening fire.' 40 rounds from an SMG were put in the hood and roof of the low life's car. When he realized he was going to get himself killed if he didn't quit ASAP he got out of the car with his hands up. I, personnaly, think this is a happy ending. No one was hurt. Only a car was killed and it was a cheap one at that. Your police are never going to hurt the public to catch a scum bag. Shooting from a helo is one of those things you don't uses everyday but your glad you had it when you did. Kind of like body armor. You wear it everyday but, hopfully, never uses it. But when you do your glad you had it.
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  • 2 months later...

"Having said that, it is IMPOSSIBLE to accurately engage point targets with any predictable results." 

 

 

 

The fine people at the GUNSITE Training Facility might disagree with you.  They teach a helicopter carbine course in which you learn to engage targets from the air. The graduates can consistently hit a 24" x 24" sandbag filled with flour (hit confirmation) at graduation.

 

-HELO COP

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Is there a website to check them out?  Granted, I could be wrong.  It's been a while since I've worn a uniform, but we got some pretty good training in the military on these type of special ops.  I guess technologies and techniques have improved a lot recently, eh?

 

Still, I can't help but to restate my opinion.  It seems to me that you would need to bring the aircraft into a stable condition and at close range to the target.  Even then, stable is a relative term.

 

My hat goes off to those shooters than can place well-aimed and accurate fire, center-mass, and with consistency.  Still, that discipline and training might not be able to keep up with so many variables at once.  Just one man's opinion, and I could be wrong.

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They fly an MD500 during their training and the student's shoot iron sight AR-15's with mandatory brass catchers for safety purposes.  In addition, they employ a technique opposite of leading a moving target where they learn to shoot early to compensate for the forward motion of the aircraft. Look at the March issue of SWAT Magazine for a hugh pictorial/article.

 

 

http://www.gunsite.com

 

ALSO, Check out Thunder Ranches' Aerial Gunnery School:

 

http://www.thunderranchinc.com/aerialgunnery.htm

 

 

-HELO COP

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  • 5 months later...

Gentlemen,

 

First let me say it IS POSSIBLE to accurately engage targets from a helicopter with a rifle, as me and my crew alone have done it successfully five times already.  Our unit as a whole has done it over 30 times.  We are the U.S. Coast Guard's Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron (HITRON) Jacksonville.  We are federal law enforcement officers as well as military officers, and I am a member of the Airborne Law Enforcement Association.  We fly MH-68A Sting Rays (Agusta A109E Powers) and fire RC50 .50 cal precision rifles and have M240 machine guns and an M16 as a backup for suppressive fire.  Our unit was originally created to stop drug smuggling vessels know as go-fasts, but we have expanded our mission to include Homeland Security since 9/11.  In our mission profile, we approach the smuggling vessels, turn on our blue light and siren, tell them to stop in English and Spanish with a loudhailer and CH16 radio calls, and give them the cut-throat hand signal and wave the machine gun at them to stop.  Since this usually is not enough to make them stop, we next fire three stiches of machine gun fire across their bow.  This certainly gets their undivided attention, but once they see that we have stopped shooting, they usually take off again.  So our Aviation Gunner in the back takes out the RC50 shoulder fired .50 cal precision rifle and shots out the engines one at a time since they usually have multiple engines.  So you see it is possible, as they are shooting at an outboard engine that is at most about 1.5' X 2' in size and so far we have had no collateral damage and we have successfully stopped every boat we have engaged.  It is a lot of work as the boat is manuvering to get away, and we are flying tight form on them 50' above the water, and the boat is bouncing around doing 40+ knots.  It gets real interesting at night...did I mention that we are usually hundreds of miles off shore with little to no illumination...thank God for NVGs!  If you had a chance to see the movie BAD BOYS II this summer we actually have a scene in the movie doing our mission.  The only thing "Hollywood" about the movie scene is that they had us only shoot the engines with the machine gun for more dramatic effect which we don't do, and they had us flying under bridges which of course we don't normally do.  Other than that, it was pretty realistic.  In case you all are intersted, we have an extensive training program for our Aviation Gunners and pilots.  The inital though was that is was going to be easier to teach marksmen to be aircrewmembers than it would be to teach our aircrewmen to shoot to such a high level.  The opposite turned out to be true, as it was easier for our aircrewmen to use all their years of aviation experience to good use and develop their shooting skills, whereas the marksmen were overwhelmed with all the aviation related tasks (radio calls, FLIR operation, hoisting, etc.) not to mention the dunker training, swim tests, etc.   I personally think the same is true for our pilots if you take the age old question which is better--train a cop to be a pilot or train a pilot to be a cop.  For this mission we will only take highly experience pilots, and then we get our law enforcement training, and it seems to work very well for us.  Working as a team, the pilots and the gunners use the crawl, walk, run principle of training.  The crawling is shooting at small, non-moving targets, the walking is shooting at small, fixed rate moving targets, and of course the running is shooting at small targets that vary their speed and course.  Our gunners have to hit a 18" x 12" moving target at least 8 out of 10 times every six months to retain their qualification, and most of them qualify 10 for 10.  As you can tell we train to disable the vessel not to shot people, but for the Homeland Security mission, we would use deadly force if necessary and I have every confidence in the world that our gunners and pilots would have no problem engaging those targets, as the engine targets are smaller than a man sized target.  Hope this provides some insight and illustrates that yes, precision fire from a helicopter can be done.

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Okay, I'm impressed!  Engaging small targets (engines) on a moving boat (three dimensions) from a moving helicopter (three dimensions) at varying speeds and headings is pretty tight.  That's skill... at all levels of the team.  Kudos!

 

However, in my mind - I was envisioning greater distances than 50 feet.  That seems awefully close.  What if they decide to shoot back (I'm sure it's happened)?  I imagine that working at night provides a little protection, but not THAT much (especially at 50 feet).

 

I was thinking along the terms of 200-300 meters when I made my first post in this thread (up to 1000 feet out).  The type of military training HeloEagle conducts is vastly different that the military training the front line & special ops soldiers practice from the air.  Obviously different missions - different tactics.  That said, I'm sure you'd agree that point targets aren't in the realm of possibility from a helicopter at 300 meters (maximum effective range for most rifles - excluding the RC50 mentioned above).

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To clarify a bit, we are usually flying 50' above the water when we shoot, but the slant range--the actual range from the helo to the target is usually in the neighborhood of 150'.  Go to this link on the ALEA website and scroll about 3/4 of the way down, and in the center column of pictures you will see a picture of us (that's me flying the helo that is shooting) firing warning shoots in front of a fleeing go-fast.  

 

http://www.alea.org/public/pics/uscg_hitron.htm

 

That give a pretty good illustration of the distances we normally shoot at.  If we get any closer we may lose sight of the occupants in the boat, which we don't want to do in case they try to shoot us.  That being said, we have shot targets (a small ammo can 12" x 8" roughly) out to 1,000 yards with the RC50.  It is a powerful weapon with a .50 cal armor piercing round, and it has such a high velocity that it maintains a pretty flat trajectory to the target and is not really affected by the rotor wash.  One of the targets that we often shoot at since it is readily available is a soda can.  The gunners crush it vertically so that it is roughtly a 3" diameter aluminum target and toss it over board.  The usually obliterate it with the first shoot from about a 300'.  I have also seen ammo cans fly 75' in the air after being hit from this distance, which is why we shoot them at greater distances than we do the actual engines, as we don't want them coming back down throught the rotor system...a very bad thing, ha, ha.

 

As for have we ever been shot at, let's just say that other countries helos have taken shoot from the bad guys, but they really don't want to escalate the drug war, so they have not yet engaged us.  In fact we video all our engagements, and so far (knock on wood) they throw their weapons overboard when they realize it is a U.S. helicopter.  I think if they ever shot us, there would be a swift and violent response from our national command authority...can you say Clear and Present Danger?  But we do train for worse case scenerio, and we all wear body armor and the helo has a kevlar blanket in the cabin and below the pilots.  If they ever do shoot at us we automatically go to deadly force.

 

Yes, we certainly use different weapons and tactics than the special forces guys use, but believe me, (I used to be an Army Aviator) anything is possible, and with the right training and equipment you can take out just about any target from a helo, you just need the right rifle for the job as the case me be...

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