Eleven years ago, I had a conversation with my chief of police on September 11, 2001. I was actually teaching a patrol rifle class on the morning of 9/11. After talking to the chief in the afternoon, when I climbed into one of our helicopters that night for my primary assignment as a full-time flight officer, I was carrying a rifle with the chief’s blessing. This was the day “things changed” for how we thought about possibly using lethal force from the air. While I carried a rifle from that day on in our helicopter, the reality was that I had no specialized training on engaging ground targets from the air. We were simply working on the premise that my firearms skills would easily translate from the ground to the air.
Fast-forward a decade and I watched an incredible display of shooting skill delivered by a flight crew member from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) shooting his LaRue OBR rifle at ground targets from DPS’ helicopter in horrendous wind conditions that only a former LE flight officer could appreciate. I knew how hard it was to fly that mission, let alone be able to engage pumpkins from a wind-tossed helicopter. After talking to the pilot and crew, I was able to wrangle my way into an “Aerial Platform” shooting class taught by Craft International with several members of the Texas DPS and other Texas police officers. Because of the current border wars and strategic interests for potential terrorists, Texas police officers have made using helicopters a priority, and they take helo-platform shooting very seriously.
Craft International is a fast-rising training organization that is headed by Chris Kyle, who has been recognized as one of the most accomplished snipers in U.S. military history while serving as a U.S. Navy SEAL. The Director of Training, Mark Spicer, taught our class. Mark is a retired British Army sergeant major, where he was a sniper, with very extensive real-world experience. He is very highly regarded as both an instructor and subject matter expert.
This class was totally geared towards professionals working in both the aviation and firearms side of the equation. The use of a helicopter as a dedicated shooting platform requires far more preparation than traditional vehicles. Many factors come into play. These are professionally addressed by the Craft instructors, and it is very obvious that they are intimately familiar with operations from a helicopter platform. The classroom presentation was very good, and the course materials were high quality. The especially important part of the course involved charts giving shooters their “lag” distances for various speeds and altitudes. These are worth the cost of the class alone. Rigging, and using the proper rigs for various helicopters, was another important topic covered.
One very unique aspect of the course I attended was the vast amount of experience in the room from a variety of Texas DPS flight officers, pilots and Texas Ranger Division SWAT officers, combined with both SWAT officers and firearms instructors from Dallas PD and nearby police departments. The instructors showed an “ego-free” level of professionalism by having the various experts in the room expound on their own experiences, combining with that of the instructors. This made for a great learning environment, with professionals all trying to help each other excel in what is a very specialized skill set. I was also impressed with the Texas DPS sending their own pilots and AS 350 helicopter to maximize the training for both gunners and pilots. I know firsthand how difficult these missions are to fly, especially when combined with the added complexity of deploying a firearm.
Day two was spent shooting. We worked with a variety of safety equipment to keep us secured in the helicopter, and instructors hammered home the specialized gun handling protocols. Additionally, we covered the safest angles of fire and the required altitude of the helicopter to safely engage a single man-sized target confined on a single carbine range in an urban range facility. This course was not conducted in a wide-open desert. It was done operating around huge towers and power lines. Once “cleared hot” by our safety officer, our shooting window to deliver two precision rounds was between 1 to 2 seconds. Safety considerations and expectations for precise surgical shooting were very high.