CHERRY POINT, N.C. - Pilots and crew members from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 366 conducted a night fire exercise off the coast of Marine Corps Outlying Field Atlantic Nov. 14, aiming to sharpen their combat effectiveness.
Firing from a CH-53E Super Stallion, the Marines employed Browning M2 .50-caliber machine guns while maintaining communication between pilots and crew. The combination of firepower and constant communication between pilots and crew makes the aircraft a potent force in support of real-world operations.
During live fire exercises, communication between gunners and pilots is key, said Capt. Tyson Metlen, a CH-53 pilot with HMH-366.
“Maintaining good communication and keeping the aircraft stable are essential,” said Metlen. “[We] let the crew know our movement so they can adjust their fire and prepare for a maneuver.”
Metlen, who has been with HMH-366 for nearly a year, has twice piloted night fire exercises. The training helps pilot and crew maximize their combat prowess, he said.
“Any time [we’re] going into a landing zone, or taking enemy fire, we can be used for defensive measures such as suppressing the enemy,” said Metlen.
Firing accurately on a target from a moving helicopter is challenging at best. Gunners rely on their pilots to maintain a steady, consistent flight pattern to help provide accurate air-to-ground fire, according to Sgt. Timothy Gayson, a crew chief and aerial gunner with HMH-366.
“You need to be able to tell the pilots how you need the aircraft to be maneuvered,” said Gayson. “That communication [gives the gunners] more time and better angles to put rounds on the target.”
Gayson, who has deployed twice to Afghanistan, attended the Weapons and Tactics Instructor course in Yuma, Ariz., to train as an aerial gunner instructor.
“There is a big difference between firing a .50-cal out of the aircraft and firing from the ground,” said Gayson. “[Aircraft mounted guns] shoot and reload faster, maneuver quicker, and are more accurate from the lack of recoil.”
Because of the pace of real world operations, live fire exercises help prepare pilots and gunners physically and mentally to support Marines while deployed combat environments.
In combat everything happens so fast, and with the boost of adrenaline anyone can get tunnel vision, said Gayson.
“So the training we conduct here, where we practice how to lead, track and follow targets helps with avoiding tunnel vision and judging distance when we’re out in Afghanistan,” said Gayson.