Door gunner training aboard the NHNATO-Helicopter-90 helicopter

Soldiers from 10 Transport Helicopter Regiment fire MG3 and M3M machine guns at the Putlos training area.

Silhouette of a helicopter against the evening sky

Objectives of training

The NHNATO-Helicopter-90 is employed on many Bundeswehr missions. The soldiers of 10 Transport Helicopter Regiment, which is stationed in Faßberg, are training to perform a difficult task – flights with door gunners.

“Here in Putlos, we conduct two different firing exercises from the NHNATO-Helicopter-90. In one exercise, we use the MG3 machine gun, which is the ‘small-calibre’ machine gun. In the other exercise, we use the heavy M3M machine gun, which has a calibre of 12.7 millimetres”, explains Captain Anton Hübner*. He is in charge of the 14-day training for “gunnies”. This is the Bundeswehr nickname for gunners at the side or rear door of helicopters. For door gunners, firing at the northernmost training area of the German Army is more than just an exercise. “It is an important step in door gunner training. Other soldiers here are preparing for their next deployment abroad”, says Hübner.

In the sky over Putlos

“Fire!” The rattle of machine gun fire repeatedly drowns out the engine noise of the helicopter.

  • A pilot checking the instruments

    Working as a team

    The Faßberg-based regiment has deployed around 80 soldiers and two helicopters to the training area. The door gunners will be the focus of attention during the coming two weeks. “But the training is not only about the abilities of individuals”, as Captain Maik Wagenbrecht* explains. The 32-year-old is a pilot. As he sees it, the entire helicopter crew must form a unit. This will be how they train in Putlos. One potential operational scenario of NHNATO-Helicopter-90 helicopters is escorting a forward air medical evacuation of wounded soldiers. In such a situation, the helicopter and its door gunners (the med chase) escort the aircraft and its medical personnel. “This is a complex task. Pilots, helicopter commanders, flight engineer personnel, and door gunners must work as a team during the rescue operation.” Everyone needs to know what to do in the event of surprising flight manoeuvres, for example in response to enemy forces who suddenly appear. In addition, door gunners also must decide in a split second about the use of weapons while keeping the applicable rules of engagement in mind.

  • Two soldiers inspect the machine gun anchored at the helicopter door.

    Serving as a door gunner aboard a helicopter at last

    The first highlight of door gunner training is firing the MG3 machine gun from the helicopter. Soldiers must train for many hours to reach this stage. “Finally. This will be the first time - the first live rounds we fire from the helicopter”, says Lance Corporal Alexander Bruch,* who is full of enthusiasm. Training to this point was long. First of all, soldiers must be certified fit for military flying duties. This is followed by courses, courses and more courses, including foreign language training. Normally, door gunner training takes eighteen months to two years. Firing exercises with the two different machine guns are the high point of training. “The flood of new impressions can make things difficult”, says Bruch. “Operating the machine gun in ‘dry training’ is not an issue. But now you have radio communication with the crew and must react to the flight manoeuvres of the pilot. You may be exposed to forces several times that of your own body weight from one second to the next, or you may have to inform the crew about an emerging enemy.” Bruch knows that in his function as gunner he is responsible for the safety of the helicopter. The goal of crew training is to ensure that every member of the flight crew has mastered procedures regarding flying, firing and communication.

  • Over the shoulder: A soldier firing from a flying helicopter

    Unlimited firepower: The M3M heavy machine gun

    Training on the M3M heavy machine gun is further important step and rounds off door-gunner training. Soldiers preparing for deployment abroad are also given the opportunity to hone their skills on this weapon. “The M3M has enormous firepower. We can even engage lightly armoured vehicles with it”, says Lance Corporal Michel Keller*. He is training on the M3M in preparation for his assignment abroad this year. “This gun has an effective range of more than 1,800 metres and a firing rate of up to 1,100 rounds per minute”, he says, rattling off the technical details. He has been a door gunner for four years and is proud to stand at the open helicopter door during flight and ensure the crew’s safety. To do this, door gunners have to put up with heat, cold, rain and dust that gets into even the smallest opening.

  • Close-up of an ammunition belt

    Ground crews are busy too

    At the Putlos training area near the Baltic sea, one helicopter after the other takes off and flies over the outdoor ranges during daytime and nighttime firing exercises. Door gunners fire up to several hundred rounds during each run. To ensure uninterrupted training, personnel on the ground busily prepare weapons, ammunition and equipment. The weapons are replaced and serviced after several runs. Door gunners have a tether that stops them from falling out of the helicopter but that also allows them enough movement to operate their weapons. The transition between firing runs takes only a few minutes and proceeds smoothly. Ground personnel and special petrol lorries are available around the clock. This allows NHNATO-Helicopter-90 crews to train safely and effectively above the Putlos firing ranges. Shortly before midnight, the crews gather for a final briefing. The day concludes with three cheers for the helicopter crews. In only a few hours, helicopters will again be taking off and heading for the firing ranges.

    *Name changed

1,100 rounds per minute