FORT SILL, Okla. – Task Force Phoenix pilots and crew chiefs honed their aerial gunnery skills at Fort Sill in late March and early April 2021 in preparation for a deployment overseas.
Door gunners engaged ground targets from the air with M240H machine guns fired from UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters.
UH-60 Black Hawk pilot Chief Warrant Officer 2 James Dorsey, with C Company, 1st Assault Helicopter Battalion, 140th Aviation Regiment, Washington National Guard, said conducting a training event focused on crew chiefs increased aerial gunnery proficiency and was good for overall unit cohesion.
“The challenging part is that we’re operating the aircraft with the primary focus of keeping the weapon oriented in the engagement zone so that the crew chiefs can engage the targets,” Dorsey said. “It’s a different style of flying. As National Guard pilots, we primarily fly missions over our state with no weapons. Aerial gunnery is outside of our normal sphere of operations. This training builds confidence in our ability to safely employ our weapons systems and hit our targets.”
Aerial gunnery validation requires air crews to complete several training tables, including classroom instruction, simulator training, and day and night live-fire with the M240 machine gun.
“You can shoot all day on the ground but it’s a totally different dynamic shooting out of a moving aircraft,” said Staff Sgt. Kevin Novak, crew chief and standardization instructor with C Company, 1-140th. “You don’t use the sights. You look at the target and walk rounds onto it.
“Aerial gunnery is super important because you’re learning to defend the aircraft,” Novak added. “This is an area suppression weapon. If we’re getting engaged by a ground force, we’re getting their heads down so we can evade.”
Task Force Phoenix has been training for an upcoming 9-month mission to provide aviation support for Operation Spartan Shield and Operation Inherent Resolve in the Middle East. The task force is led by the California Army National Guard’s 40th Combat Aviation Brigade and is composed of more than 1,100 Soldiers from nine states.
At Fort Sill, flight crews from C Company, 1-140th, Washington National Guard; A Company, 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion), Alaska National Guard; and B Company, 1st Battalion, 171st Aviation Regiment (GSAB), Iowa National Guard and Minnesota National Guard, participated in the aerial gunnery training.
The units travelled by ground and air from North Fort Hood, Texas, to Henry Post Army Airfield at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for the aerial gunnery.
The 166th Aviation Brigade, First Army – Division West, based in Fort Hood, Texas, facilitated and evaluated the training.
“During the execution of aerial gunnery, the 166th Aviation Brigade Master Gunner and three Sergeant 1st Class Standardization Instructors were present at the range to assist in training, provide mentorship, and they flew in the aircraft to observe crew coordination through each aerial gunnery table,” said Capt. Michael Harper, Chief of Future Aviation Mobilizations, 166th Aviation Brigade. “For a Black Hawk and Chinook, the only defensive weapons available to the aircraft are M240Hs. The process of the aerial gunnery tables is to build the understanding on the functions of the weapon through different stages, to include day and night operations. The building process within the aerial gunnery tables provides a solid foundation for the rated- and non-rated crew members to team together within an aircraft and as a flight. This ensures that they are prepared to defend themselves and the passengers they carry no matter time of day or the mission they are conducting while deployed.”
In early April, Task Force Phoenix air crews successfully completed the aerial gunnery qualifications and returned to North Fort Hood to participate in a Culminating Training Event as the final step in their deployment validation.