As birds chirped a musical tune near the control tower, a much larger, more destructive bird, the OH-58D Kiowa, soared in from the north armed and ready and to destroy enemy targets. What would seemingly be a pleasant day would soon be disrupted by heavy ammunition raining down on the Yakima Training Center live fire range.

Operating the helicopter, which is primarily employed for route reconnaissance and convoy security, were pilots from 4th Squadron, 6th Air Cavalry Regiment.

Simulating ground troops, Soldiers in the control tower cleared the Joint Base Lewis-McChord pilots to fly in and annihilate enemy targets during their annual gunnery qualifications in May, which is required of all pilots.

"We try to simulate how the ground units would call us and tell us the distance and heading for their position," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Christopher Tolbert, pilot from Able Troop, 4-6 ACS. Sometimes those distances are off and it's on the pilot to ensure the right target has been acquired, said Tolbert.

The targets simulated enemy combatants and were dispersed along a ridgeline, which stretched north and south as far as the eye can see.

The first mission of the qualification called upon the pilots to fire on a target using their M4 carbines. After hitting the M4 target, they were required to drop a smoke grenade at a given location on the range. The purple smoke billowing into the sky signaled the halfway point of the pilot's mission. The challenges ahead were to successfully hit four of seven 50 cal targets, which simulated enemy fire.

"The hardest thing to simulate is a target that is actually shooting," said Tolbert. "So sometimes it takes the pilot time to acquire the real target, when in a real combat situation they would see who's shooting at them."

Immediately upon receiving the enemy's location from the control tower, the Kiowa swooped in, scouting for the target. Once accurately acquired, the pilots accelerated toward the target and fired its machine gun at it. At a distance, plumes of dirt shot up from the ground followed by a drum roll of firepower. Once the control tower confirmed the hit, the pilots concentrated their efforts on the next series of targets.

"Anytime you do an exercise like this, you want to push yourself to do everything at a high level," said Tolbert.

The final stage of the gunnery qualifications required the pilots to destroy two of four rocket targets.

The Kiowa fires M151 HE rockets commonly known as the 10-pounder. For training purposes a simulation rocket called the Blue Sphere was used.

Hovering nearly 30 feet off of the ground, the Kiowa stared down its opponent. Having already acquired the target, the pilots fired the rocket, which exploded from the helicopter in the blink of an eye.

The sound wave from the warhead's explosion hits only after witnessing its destruction of the enemy.

"The best thing is when you get a rocket right on target," said Tolbert. "When you get that direct hit; that's an awesome feeling.

In addition to the annual qualifications, pilots need a minimum of 70 flight hours every six months, including nine using night vision goggles, to be mission ready.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16