Last week was the realization of a dream. This was all thanks to Last Shadow, a Temple, Texas based aviation company that primarily focuses on helicopter hog hunts. However, they are a full service company and entertained my desire to shoot a gun from a helicopter at night using night vision. It was one of the most fun experiences I have ever had with night vision.
Riders Of Last Shadow
Last Shadow has an MD600N helicopter for their hog hunts. This was the same helicopter we used for the helicopter night vision shoot.
Last Shadow provided the guns and ammo. They brought along two cases of Federal 5.56. In light of the ammo crunch, can I take that box home? Asking for a friend.
The guns that we used were TRIARC Systems AR15s. Each suppressed with a Dead Air Sandman-S.
Earlier that day Ryan, his friend Garrett and I became Toruk Makto, Riders Of Last Shadow (James Cameron’s Avatar reference). Last Shadow had taken us up for an aerial hog/coyote hunt. That was when we got a primer on shooting from a helicopter.
Safety is paramount when handling firearms. Even more so when deploying them from a moving vehicle and especially in an aircraft. Contrary to our normal training and practice, the safest direction to point a firearm is not up or down but rather straight out the side of the helicopter. The guns are unloaded until the pilot instructs us to load them and fire. I am not familiar with firearms and aircraft so this may be universal for some or these could be specific safety rules established by Last Shadow. For the comfort of everyone in and possibly outside of the helicopter, we are shooting suppressed. Ryan opted to use his personal 11.5″ pistol with a SIG Sauer suppressor on it. He borrowed my DBAL-A2 which we zeroed previously on a night time hog/coyote hunt in South Texas. I used my Salient Arms lower with binary trigger with the Last Shadow TRIARC suppressed upper. I did mount my MAWL-C1+ on the handguard so I could aim with just the laser. The TRIARC uppers had either a VORTEX UH-1 or an EOTECH EXPS3-0 on them. However, they are not sitting on a riser so aiming passively through these optics would not be ideal but if we had to we could have made it work. Lasers just make shooting with night vision much easier. Garret was lent a TRIARC Systems rifle with an L3 NGAL mounted on it. He has never fired with night vision or lasers before so it was quite an experience for him.
Due to the onboard communications system in the helicopter, I was unable to connect my OPS-CORE AMP headset. According to Barrett of Last Shadow, tactical communications headsets have an impedance problem with aviation communications. They are not compatible. So we had to wear the aviation headsets under our respective helmets. This was not much of an issue other than having to thread the microphone boom and cable through the chin strap so they can move freely.
Shooting From A Helicopter With Night Vision
In order to maximize as many shooters for a single flight, we were joined by a fourth shooter. I was so excited about being in the air with NODs and a gun that I did not really have time to discern all the stimulus I was receiving. In the video above you can hear the rapid yet consistent fire coming from the side of the helicopter that Ryan was on. That was our fourth mystery shooter. Only after our night flight shoot did we learn the identity of our fourth helicopter companion, it was former Delta Jim Smith. The same Jim Smith who helped secure one of the downed helicopters during the infamous Black Hawk Down event in Mogadishu. Go back and listen to the rapid firing that is off camera in the video above.
Garrett had talked to Jim Smith about his rapid firing and he said this:
Talking to Jim Smith was actually really cool in regard to the volume of fire discussion. He said volume of fire = better hit probability. He was shooting crazy fast when we were shooting at night for that reason. He obviously knows what he is talking about and he did extremely well.
I did not really anticipate needing my binary trigger but I figured I won’t know when the next opportunity will be to shoot a gun out of a helicopter especially with night vision so I might as well have fun. And I am glad I did. The helicopter night flight was not very long. Each side of the helicopter got three passes at targets. So it helped to send as many rounds at the targets as possible. Sure if I had more time and money I could practice leading or lagging targets but I am only here for the experience, not legitimate training. Which was obvious from the short flight time.
To help the shooters, the pilots dropped chemlights near the targets that we were to engage. Also, this helps the pilot point out which targets to shoot when he talks to us via the onboard communications.
The pilot was using a flight helmet with a set of ANVS9 night vision goggles. I talked to the pilot and learned that they do not have their instrument gauges filtered for their ANVS9 goggles. They just turn the instrument lights off and run the helicopter dark. Sometimes the easiest solutions are the best. In the video above, you will notice the Last Shadow helicopter was not running its positional lights either. They were turned off to prevent blasting our NODs with superfluous lights.
Now, this is only in the context of flying these night shoots. We were at Holley Gun Range which was spitting distance from Fort Hood. We could see a lot of military vehicles parked on either side of the road that we took driving in and later we saw a lot of helicopter activity. I even saw a helicopter practice shooting some sort of ordinance off in the distance. I believe they have permission to fly dark for this area only. When they took off to go back to their home base, they activated their positional lights and flew without night vision.
I did experience a malfunction while in the Last Shadow helicopter. Fortunately, my experience using firearms under NODs kicked in. I had a dead trigger and I thought the gun had gone dry. So when I tried reloading I noticed it was difficult to seat the magazine. Since I cannot see that closely with night vision, I just felt for the malfunction. I felt the ejection port and sure enough, there was some sort of failure to feed. You can tell this by feeling for the bolt carrier and if it is not seated properly. I took the full magazine and shoved it under my butt. Then I tried to pull the charging handle. It was stuck, or at least the bolt was stuck. I have to mortar the gun but I know I can’t mortar the gun against the deck of the Last Shadow Helicopter. The edge of my seat! Since I was sitting facing outwards, the edge of my seat faces the safe direction and is easily within my reach. So I butt stroked the gun against the edge of my seat and ejected the stuck cartridge. Grabbed the fresh mag and reloaded the gun for the next string of helicopter night vision shooting.
Final Thoughts On Helicopter Night Vision Shooting
Other than joining the military or possibly law enforcement, there are not many opportunities to shoot a firearm from an aircraft especially at night. Sure if you know someone rich enough to own a plane or possibly a helicopter you might be able to do it. But I do not know the FAA rules about shooting firearms from a helicopter at night. I have been told by some that it is restricted. Last Shadow said it was not an issue. I was curious why we couldn’t go on a hog or coyote hunt at night with night vision and it is a simple matter of safety for the helicopter. The Holley Gun Range is free of any obstructions like power lines or wires. That is not the case when hunting close to the ground flying around farmland.
We only got a taste of aerial platform shooting under night vision and while it would be fun to learn more, it is cost-prohibitive and not exactly a skill I need to hone. If my job involved shooting guns out of helicopters specifically at night, then I would need to practice this. However, if you are like me and like to experience new challenges and have a fun time then check out Last Shadow for a helicopter excursion.