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#1
Old 10-25-2013, 08:50 PM
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How effective were helicopter door gunners in Vietnam?

It seems impossible that they could hit anything, did they?
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#2
Old 10-25-2013, 09:34 PM
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First, let's get it out of the way : "I done got me 157 dead gooks killed. Plus 50 water buffalo, too ! Them's all confirmed !"

Now, for more serious. First of all, Hueys weren't all that fast : Wikipedia lists a cruise speed of 100 knots which is much slower than, say, the diving speed of a WW2 ground attack aircraft. Which, granted, were woefully inaccurate. But over time, statistically, given a high rate of fire, y'know, sometimes a barn got hit or something .

Also, IANADG but seems to me the point wasn't to fire while the choppers were zooming about (as happy funtimes as that might have been) but to provide area suppression at the landing zone, to cover the troops, not to mention the chopper itself, while they were jumping out and extremely vulnerable. Possibly also some strafing fire on a given area as the chopper drew lazy circles around the target.
#3
Old 10-25-2013, 10:00 PM
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I read a story written by a pilot of a Cobra attack helicopter in Vietnam. He began his tour as a co-pilot and occupied the front seat, which controlled the minigun. That gun fires up to 6000 rounds per minute. That's fast.

He described following a buzzard one day, and being challenged by the pilot to shoot it down. He unloaded all 6000 rounds (the ammo load) on that buzzard as it lazily moved from side to side to avoid the fire. Needless to say, he had 6000 misses.

So, I'd say hitting a moving target from a moving vehicle is much harder than it looks.
#4
Old 10-25-2013, 10:03 PM
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It's called suppressing fire and is designed to keep the enemy's heads down while the chopper is landing and taking off. While a minigun has far more firepower, it's used for the same purpose (or was, in the pre-computer controlled era).

Last edited by Chefguy; 10-25-2013 at 10:05 PM.
#5
Old 10-25-2013, 10:03 PM
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It's not necessary to hit your target -- throwing ammo as covering fire will keep the enemy's heads down, even if you don't hit anyone.
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#6
Old 10-25-2013, 10:34 PM
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I am a graduate of the Fort Benning Infantry School, I'm familiar with suppressive fire. It seems that after even a few insertions/extractions the Bad Guys would figure out that you're pretty safe from the door gunners and they could just keep their heads down and blow the helicopters out of the sky.

Was this just a way to keep the Huey crews from feeling helpless?
#7
Old 10-25-2013, 10:43 PM
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Lawrence Colburn was pretty effective in a certain way.

Last edited by thelurkinghorror; 10-25-2013 at 10:43 PM.
#8
Old 10-25-2013, 11:52 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chacoguy View Post
I am a graduate of the Fort Benning Infantry School, I'm familiar with suppressive fire. It seems that after even a few insertions/extractions the Bad Guys would figure out that you're pretty safe from the door gunners and they could just keep their heads down and blow the helicopters out of the sky.

Was this just a way to keep the Huey crews from feeling helpless?
It's hard not to keep your head down when you can hear a bullet fly past your head.
#9
Old 10-26-2013, 12:12 AM
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Just to not besmirch anyone's actions, I'm not asking about bravery from either side. I'm questioning the effectiveness of the door gunner vs. the guy in the jungle shooting back at him.
#10
Old 10-26-2013, 12:26 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Morgenstern View Post
I read a story written by a pilot of a Cobra attack helicopter in Vietnam. He began his tour as a co-pilot and occupied the front seat, which controlled the minigun. That gun fires up to 6000 rounds per minute. That's fast.

He described following a buzzard one day, and being challenged by the pilot to shoot it down. He unloaded all 6000 rounds (the ammo load) on that buzzard as it lazily moved from side to side to avoid the fire. Needless to say, he had 6000 misses.

So, I'd say hitting a moving target from a moving vehicle is much harder than it looks.
First off, there is no way he had 6000 rounds. Ammunition is heavy and bulky. While the rate of fire is 6000 rounds out of the M61 Vulcan cannon the typical loadout is much less than that, good for a few bursts only. Also, modern targeting equipment makes hitting a moving target much easier than it used to be, evidenced by the Apache gun camera videos that have made the rounds over the last decade.

As for helicopter gunners, suppressive fire has an effect far out of proportion to the volume of fire, simply because nobody wants to be the guy to catch a random bullet because they're too stupid to keep their head down in case someone is actually aiming. That said, there were gunners on the ground that could take down a jet at altitude using nothing but their eyeballs, so it's not implausible to believe that a guy on a fairly stable platform like a Huey could walk some rounds onto an enemy position, especially if he's loaded with tracers.
#11
Old 10-26-2013, 12:31 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chacoguy View Post
It seems that after even a few insertions/extractions the Bad Guys would figure out that you're pretty safe from the door gunners and they could just keep their heads down and blow the helicopters out of the sky.
With what ? AK fire ? RPGs weren't exactly as ubiquitous as they are now. Those the NVA had were short-ranged, unguided and inaccurate. Not sure whether the Viet-Cong had any such heavy equipment at all. And besides, when an angry man is sweeping a large belt-fed machine gun in the vicinity it is considered bad luck to bring attention to one's location .

I mean, either they're suppressed or they're not. If they feel safe enough to pop out of cover and fire back, by definition they're not suppressed.
#12
Old 10-26-2013, 12:34 AM
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I never had any complaints about door gunners on a slick I was in, exiting, or boarding. Especially if the slick was taking me and my guys back to the FB.
#13
Old 10-26-2013, 12:34 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chacoguy View Post
Just to not besmirch anyone's actions, I'm not asking about bravery from either side. I'm questioning the effectiveness of the door gunner vs. the guy in the jungle shooting back at him.
If I'm getting off a bird in a hot LZ I would much prefer some covering fire. Whether or not it actually hits anything. Just keep them busy till I can get to cover.
#14
Old 03-07-2015, 12:33 AM
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former Gunner 67/68

Being a gunner on a UH-1C gunship, we were very effective. Being in the open door
you could see and hear what was going on, we were very low and 90 or so mph.
We shot what was known as a free gun ( attached to overhead with bungee) it was
a M60 machine gun that had become very modified. We caused a lot of problems
on the ground, and helped a lot of troops with EFFECTIVE door gun fire. The
ineffective didn't make it.
#15
Old 03-07-2015, 06:53 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Carl Peters View Post
Being a gunner on a UH-1C gunship, we were very effective. Being in the open door
you could see and hear what was going on, we were very low and 90 or so mph.
We shot what was known as a free gun ( attached to overhead with bungee) it was
a M60 machine gun that had become very modified. We caused a lot of problems
on the ground, and helped a lot of troops with EFFECTIVE door gun fire. The
ineffective didn't make it.
Suddenly, you seem to be the only person to have been there/done that in this thread.
I should thank you for saving many asses.
So I will.

Last edited by Cabin_Fever; 03-07-2015 at 06:56 AM.
#16
Old 03-07-2015, 07:45 AM
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I was a Marine in Vietnam in 1969. From personal experience I have to say it was very effective in that it suppressed fire.

The OP's question, it seems to me, was concerned more with how ACCURATE the fire was rather how EFFECTIVE it was. He was also only asking about the M-60 door gunners, not the mini-gun. I have to believe that accuracy from a moving platform with a gun that can move in any direction is limited. But they put out a lot of rounds that could hit in a relatively small area. And as mentioned above, it's hard not to believe that they are aimed at you.

So the answer is:

How EFFECTIVE were they? Real effective.

How ACCURATE were they? Eh, probably not so much.
#17
Old 03-07-2015, 07:59 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kobal2 View Post
First of all, Hueys weren't all that fast : Wikipedia lists a cruise speed of 100 knots
I was a Huey pilot for five years and we always cruised at 90 knots. Fortunately no one ever shot at me and I never shot at anyone but during gunnery practice. our door gunners could hit things pretty well. I will however defer to Carl Peters on this.
#18
Old 03-07-2015, 08:26 AM
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I have to make a book recommendation here - About Huey pilots in VN.

ChickenHawk

Quote:
Originally Posted by Amazon
this straight-from-the-shoulder account tells the electrifying truth about the helicopter war in Vietnam.
It's an amazing read. From training, to some absolutely crazy stuff they did.
#19
Old 03-09-2015, 10:00 PM
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More Door Gunner info

About the Cobra ammo issues above.
Early Army Ah-1Gs 1967-7? had 2 guns in nose turret, 1 mini and 1 40mm or
2 miniguns the unit could select what they needed. The mini gun ammo box held
4000 rds. of 7.62, per gun. The 20mm turret was later in the Cobras life.

More Door Gunner info we used Duplex ammo in our M60s for a long time, these
had 2 bullets in one case. Now you went from 550 rpm you doubled your output
they had green tips.
#20
Old 03-10-2015, 11:50 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SandyHook View Post
I was a Marine in Vietnam in 1969. From personal experience I have to say it was very effective in that it suppressed fire.

The OP's question, it seems to me, was concerned more with how ACCURATE the fire was rather how EFFECTIVE it was. He was also only asking about the M-60 door gunners, not the mini-gun. I have to believe that accuracy from a moving platform with a gun that can move in any direction is limited. But they put out a lot of rounds that could hit in a relatively small area. And as mentioned above, it's hard not to believe that they are aimed at you.

So the answer is:

How EFFECTIVE were they? Real effective.

How ACCURATE were they? Eh, probably not so much.
The same can be said for supressive fire by ground troops. It's done so that other troops can advance while the hail of fire keeps enemy heads down. It's not meant to be accurate in terms of kills, but if directed toward known enemy positions, it's very effective.
#21
Old 03-10-2015, 06:05 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Carl Peters View Post
Being a gunner on a UH-1C gunship, we were very effective. Being in the open door
you could see and hear what was going on, we were very low and 90 or so mph.
We shot what was known as a free gun ( attached to overhead with bungee) it was
a M60 machine gun that had become very modified. We caused a lot of problems
on the ground, and helped a lot of troops with EFFECTIVE door gun fire. The
ineffective didn't make it.
I've known a lot of families whose sons/brothers were door gunners that didn't come back. It was apparently one of the most dangerous jobs in Vietnam. Thanks for coming back, and condolences on your comrades who didn't.
#22
Old 03-11-2015, 07:51 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chacoguy View Post
I am a graduate of the Fort Benning Infantry School, I'm familiar with suppressive fire. It seems that after even a few insertions/extractions the Bad Guys would figure out that you're pretty safe from the door gunners and they could just keep their heads down and blow the helicopters out of the sky.
That's easy to say, but if .303 slugs are zipping all around, you're going to be rather strongly inclined to hit the dirt. Humans are humans.

War is not so much about accurate fire as it is about generally accurate volume of fire.

Quote:
Was this just a way to keep the Huey crews from feeling helpless?
My best friend's Dad flew Hueys on two tours in Vietnam, and was wounded by ground fire, and he says he felt rather safe, all things considered. The Huey was an amazing aircraft and could survive a lot before it went down. The great, great overwhelming majority of missions went fine.

Also, another vote for "Chickenhawk." It's not the most literary book but it's a very raw, honest account.
#23
Old 03-11-2015, 09:31 AM
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While I was doing my hang out with the Army thing for the USAF we had USAF UH-1N helo gunships equipped with the 7.62 miniguns. Their mission was armed escort and fairly wimpy CAS, essentially the same as Viet Nam era Army Hueys. The guns were manned by door gunners and completely manually aimed.

I rode on any number of live-fire training missions. They'd operate in pairs such that one or the other helo was putting fire on the target almost continuously. They'd shoot a couple seconds, wait a couple seconds, shoot again, repeat. Done properly, as each gunship flew out of position, the other was just getting into position to keep the fire up.

They'd aim at a fixed target about the size of a delivery truck. With an experienced gunner, most rounds landed in or near the truck. If the truck was unarmored, at least some occupants would be dead or dying after the first burst, much less the fourth.

So in that sense, given a clearly visible stationary target, they were pretty accurate. And pretty effective at neutralizing or destroying it.

OTOH, there we were suspended a couple hundred feet above the ground doing a mere 90-ish mph. Any spot on the ground within a half mile in any direction might have a gunner who could shoot back. With two guns we could shoot at two enemy positions. But a circle a mile across could conceivably contain hundreds or even thousands of enemy gun positions.

So the gunships could be militarily effective, but only in situations where they were up against small clusters of bad guys, not massed formations.

Last edited by LSLGuy; 03-11-2015 at 09:34 AM.
#24
Old 03-11-2015, 10:21 AM
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Let's not confuse the Gunships with the Slicks, m'kay?

When I read "door gunners", I think of the crew chief and the gunner on either side of a UH-1D "Slick". Slicks were for transporting soldiers, not for attack, and the guns were supposed to be for defense only. In the UH-1B and AH-1 gunships, the gunners (the guy who controlled the chin turret) were in the right or front seat respectively, and the pilot (in the back or left seat, respectively) controlled the attitude of the chopper for firing the side mounted guns or rockets. The gunships were for anti-armor, close in support, and prepping an LZ. Though I guess the B model Hueys had a chief and gunner in the doors in back too.

But my experience was in the 70s and is probably outdated.
#25
Old 03-11-2015, 10:38 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chefguy View Post
The same can be said for supressive fire by ground troops. It's done so that other troops can advance while the hail of fire keeps enemy heads down. It's not meant to be accurate in terms of kills, but if directed toward known enemy positions, it's very effective.
Right. The purpose of suppressive fire isn't to directly kill anyone, but to restrict their movement so that other soldiers (e.g. riflemen and snipers) can get in and do their thing. If an enemy pops their head up and gets hit by the suppressive fire, that's a bonus, of course, but not the primary objective. Thus, judging machine gunners by hit accuracy is more or less missing the point of machine gunners.
#26
Old 03-11-2015, 10:39 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ranger Jeff View Post
Let's not confuse the Gunships with the Slicks, m'kay?

When I read "door gunners", I think of the crew chief and the gunner on either side of a UH-1D "Slick". ...
The original question was about "door gunners". The aircraft I was describing were Hueys, NOT Cobras. And the guns were free-traversing side-firing manually controlled 7.62 miniguns operated by enlisted gunners hanging out the sliding side doors of said Hueys.

Admittedly this was the mid 1980s, so not Viet Nam. But the equipment was pretty obsolescent then, and not much improved, if at all, over that used at the trailing edge of the Viet Nam conflict.

Last edited by LSLGuy; 03-11-2015 at 10:42 AM.
#27
Old 03-11-2015, 10:54 AM
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I have no experience but they certainly seem like they'd be effective at not only suppressive fire but even accurate fire at an exposed target. If you've ever been on a helicopter, as it enters the LZ, it'll be maybe 50 feet high and going 25 mph and slowing. Seems like a good vantage point for a machine gunner.

As far as suppressive fire, Hueys would usually land in groups. If you have a dozen Hueys landing with 12 machine guns raking the tree line on each side, well, if I were a VC, I'd want to make sure my life insurance premium was paid up.

You also had the Loach, a small helicopter with a pilot and a guy with an M60 on his lap. Their job was to scout by flying low and hoping to be shot at. If they only ran into a few bad guys, they'd hopefully take them out then continue scouting, else they'd call for backup. My point being, they'd fly at treetop altitude and shoot people with M60s quite effectively. What they were doing was not entirely dissimilar than a Huey door gunner coming into an LZ at treetop level with an M60.
#28
Old 03-11-2015, 11:01 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chacoguy View Post
Just to not besmirch anyone's actions, I'm not asking about bravery from either side. I'm questioning the effectiveness of the door gunner vs. the guy in the jungle shooting back at him.
Shooting up or down at a hard angle is a tough thing unless you are trained for it. Door gunners were trained for it; Mr. Charles was not. So while cruising or at elevation the door gunner has the advantage.

As the chopper would be approaching or leaving the LZ, not so much. We're closer to the same plain and Charles has a clear target. And he doesn't have to hit the gunner to be effective/win -- just the chopper. So there I would say he gets the advantage.
#29
Old 03-12-2015, 08:23 AM
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I don't know for a fact that this is a true story, but the fact is that this story went around.

Background True Info: M60 machine guns needed a "loader" to help feed the belt into the gun. Which worked fine on the ground, but wasn't possible when you've got one mounted on a Huey. So, the gunners would attach a c-ration can to the side of the "pig" to help the belt feed properly. It wasn't major surgery, all they needed was some baling wire and a pair of lineman's pliers.

The story is that a gunner was working on the c-rat can on his M-60 when a "journalist" approached him and asked if he could ask him a question. The gunner said sure and the journalist asked him "Is it difficult for you to shoot innocent women and children?" The gunner, who was finishing up with the can, stood in the chopper, wrestled the M-60 around for a few seconds, and then answered "Naw. You just don't lead them as much."
#30
Old 03-12-2015, 09:37 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Airman Doors, USAF View Post
First off, there is no way he had 6000 rounds. Ammunition is heavy and bulky. While the rate of fire is 6000 rounds out of the M61 Vulcan cannon the typical loadout is much less than that, good for a few bursts only. Also, modern targeting equipment makes hitting a moving target much easier than it used to be, evidenced by the Apache gun camera videos that have made the rounds over the last decade.
As Carl mentions below the Cobra in Viet Nam had a minigun (or 2) in the nose turret. The 20mm came later when the Cobra was modernized for Cold War anti-tank tactics. Although it is similar to the Vulcan the Cobra was equipped with a M197 20mm Automatic Gun. Basically a Vulcan with 3 barrels instead of 6.

The Cobras with the M197 20mm gun carried 700 rounds.
The Cobras with the 7.62mm minigun carried 4,000 rounds.

I was in an active duty unit with modernized Cobras and a Guard unit with museum piece old Cobras.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Carl Peters View Post
About the Cobra ammo issues above.
Early Army Ah-1Gs 1967-7? had 2 guns in nose turret, 1 mini and 1 40mm or
2 miniguns the unit could select what they needed. The mini gun ammo box held
4000 rds. of 7.62, per gun. The 20mm turret was later in the Cobras life.
#31
Old 03-12-2015, 03:47 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ranger Jeff View Post
I don't know for a fact that this is a true story, but the fact is that this story went around.

Background True Info: M60 machine guns needed a "loader" to help feed the belt into the gun. Which worked fine on the ground, but wasn't possible when you've got one mounted on a Huey. So, the gunners would attach a c-ration can to the side of the "pig" to help the belt feed properly. It wasn't major surgery, all they needed was some baling wire and a pair of lineman's pliers.

The story is that a gunner was working on the c-rat can on his M-60 when a "journalist" approached him and asked if he could ask him a question. The gunner said sure and the journalist asked him "Is it difficult for you to shoot innocent women and children?" The gunner, who was finishing up with the can, stood in the chopper, wrestled the M-60 around for a few seconds, and then answered "Naw. You just don't lead them as much."
It's from the movie Full Metal Jacket
#32
Old 03-12-2015, 04:44 PM
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Originally Posted by obbn View Post
It's from the movie Full Metal Jacket
No. It was standard USAF lore in the 70s, if not sooner. And per Ranger Jeff, apparently US Army lore in the 70s as well.

In the USAF version the question was asked of F-100 jocks how they could strafe women & children. The laconic answer: "Easy; you just don't lead 'em as much."

FMJ took it from the military, not vice versa.

Last edited by LSLGuy; 03-12-2015 at 04:46 PM.
#33
Old 03-12-2015, 09:09 PM
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The "lead 'em less" line is from Dispatches, by Michael Heller, who was a war correspondent in Vietnam, so ostensibly true. Heller wrote some of the dialogue in FMJ, and if you know the book he basically just cribbed a lot from himself.
#34
Old 03-13-2015, 10:34 AM
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It was a common joke during the war. I've read books by veterans where it was said as a joke among their buddies. Of course, they didn't write the books until years later and even if their memory was accurate, it still might have started with Heller then became common.
#35
Old 03-13-2015, 12:24 PM
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It's actually Michael Herr, not Heller. Memories.

You're right fubaya, it might have been a common joke that Herr mistakenly thought was an original thought, or perhaps it's clear in the book that the gunner meant it as a joke and I missed the context. Don't have the book any more to check.
#36
Old 03-15-2015, 12:18 PM
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This article:

http://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/thi...ake-1690581460

suggests that CG personnel could hit the engine of a smuggler's speedboat from a helicopter using a 50 cal sniper rifle. Perhaps door gunner fire might have been more accurate than we assume? Though I'm sure it was mainly intended as suppressive fire.

Last edited by TSBG; 03-15-2015 at 12:19 PM. Reason: wrong link
#37
Old 03-15-2015, 01:29 PM
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The smugglers weren't shooting back---all of the videos I've seen of that sort of thing were nighttime intercepts from some distance away. AIUI, they were far enough away that the bad guys would be unlikely to get effective fire with handheld small arms onto the helicopter, but close enough for the .50 to have a short time of flight. With a laser rangefinder, knowing the exact range would be fairly easy. The Seahawk or Dolphin helicopter matched speed as best as possible with the boat, on a parallel course, so all the shooter had to contend with the large crosswind from their travel. Presumably, they'd practiced similar shots before, so they knew how to account for downdraft and the downward angle of the shot. Fire a shot into the engine area, have your spotter give a correction, and continue until the speedboat's tuned racing engines and coolers get tired of having holes poked in them. The more I think it out, it doesn't sound very difficult.

Google, 'Texas DPS Helicopter shooting' for what happens when you don't take care to set up the shot, and instead start blasting away. Not to mention tires are a lot smaller than a Cigarette boat's engine compartment, and the shot cone to hit tires is going to come a lot closer to the passenger compartment than a shot on the boat engine. Of course, the officer involved was cleared of any wrongdoing. Just disgusting. Sadly, I think I'm one of the few people in Texas that thinks so.
#38
Old 03-15-2015, 01:38 PM
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Originally Posted by The Second Stone View Post
I've known a lot of families whose sons/brothers were door gunners that didn't come back. It was apparently one of the most dangerous jobs in Vietnam. Thanks for coming back, and condolences on your comrades who didn't.
Not to mention the human beings who suffered the same fate on the other end of the gun.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cabin_Fever View Post
I should thank you for saving many asses.
So I will.
Those on the other end of the bullet might not feel so complimentary.
#39
Old 03-15-2015, 02:17 PM
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Firing a .50 cal Barrett from a Dolphin? I'd recommend a Ma Deuce.
#40
Old 03-15-2015, 02:41 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Musicat View Post
Not to mention the human beings who suffered the same fate on the other end of the gun.

Those on the other end of the bullet might not feel so complimentary.
It is called war.
It is not very pleasant on either side.
Ask me how I know.
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