It’s a little like shooting a bird with a shotgun, but in reverse and with a rifle. It’s more difficult, too. And there is a very serious, practical aspect to the Aerial Rifle training offered to select individuals and units by Dillon Aero—it can save lives and protect this country.
Shooting from a helicopter at an enemy combatant or a criminal who is a threat is a challenge. This became obvious when, in 2005, a foreign spec-ops unit hired Dillon to provide a crew and helicopter from which to practice aerial riflery. The special forces unit claimed to have the expertise to train and engage in shooting from a helicopter, but it became obvious that their claims were only fantasy. Afterwards, in frustration, John Doyel and Chris Dillon decided to figure out how to do it, and they did. Now Dillon Aero offers that training.
Dillon Aero is a sister company of Dillon Precision, which designs and makes excellent reloading equipment. Dillon Aero also manufactures the M134D minigun and provides training in its maintenance and use to government agencies and military customers. Dillon maintains a fleet of privately owned helicopters, mainly operated to support its research and development work, but these aircraft are also used as training platforms for both the M134 and Aerial Rifle course, which has been in existence for seven years.
Dillon is committed to protecting this country and offers Aerial Rifle training at cost, though it is strictly limited to military and LE personnel. Dillon will also donate time and equipment on occasion. That’s a pretty high level of commitment for a commercial enterprise, because operating a Huey helicopter for several hours is not cheap.
As developed by Dillon, the purpose of the Aerial Rifle course is to teach slow, deliberate fire from a helicopter at speeds from 20 to 60 knots and ranges out to 150 meters. It is not a precision rifle course, even though many of the law enforcement personnel trained are SWAT snipers who use scoped guns in their work. But for this, scoped guns don’t work well because the field of view and parallax—combined with turbulence and normal vibrations from the helicopter—make it difficult to acquire a target and maintain a good sight picture. Instead, AR-style guns with non-magnifying optics like EOTech or Aimpoint units with red dots work much better.
By using the right weapon system and applying the proper techniques, a typical student can expect to achieve one hit on target for every three rounds fired. And those misses will be very close. Some can get even better and score hits with two out of three rounds. Considering all the variables involved—target size, helicopter speed, target distance, turbulence, vibration, and how rapidly the sight picture changes—one in three is a pretty good ratio.
Class begins with a short stand-up lecture of the course goals, safety and the basic concepts of shooting from a fast-moving aerial platform at a small stationary target. There are mathematically calculated firing solutions for various situations, but unless you are an incredibly gifted mathematician with a brain like a computer or have a photographic memory with instant recall that you can access in a fast-moving, stressful situation, the mathematical solutions are only a rough guide to get the student started.
This is a learn-by-doing class, so after about 15 minutes, the lecture was over and we took the short walk to the range, where we examined the targets and got familiar with the layout of the impact area. Everyone had to know the flight patterns, approaches and departures, as well as exactly what was going to happen and how the course of fire was designed. The range is in a remote part of the Arizona desert, but safety and zones of fire were still important.