How effective are small arms against helicopters?


September 16, 2008, 12:54 PM
This is an honest question that has stemmed from many many movies. A helicopter in a movie is either one of two things; impervious to small arms, or apparently weaker than a 2 year old.

So my question is: Exactly how hard is it to shoot down a helicopter?

I have seen footage from Vietnam in which a UH-1 Huey has taken dozens of rounds of AK to the body and motor and still function enough to get home. But then you hear of a single shot cutting some wire/fuel line/hydrolic system and sending the chopper down.

So which is it?

And this doesnt go for black govt helicopters.....we all know you cant shoot them down. :D

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September 16, 2008, 01:12 PM
(take this with a grain of salt, I've never flown a helicopter, closely examined a helicopter, or shot at a helicopter).

I have to imagine the first question is 'what sort of a helicopter?' The bigger the helicopter, the more body there is that's irrelevant to its actual functioning, and the more mass it has to get through to reach the good bits.

Since you brought up a Huey, let's take that example. From what I understand, the majority of the Huey is not especially impervious to bullets, at least not significantly more than a good, Detroit-made car (which, as box of truth has shown us, isn't very much). However, the helicopter will continue to work as long as the engine and control surfaces are still functional, which seem to take up a very small part of the entire vehicle, and as long as the pilot is still guiding it. I don't know how big the gas tanks are on a huey, so that could be an option as well.

Because of the nature of angles, and the fact that most of the good stuff is on the top of the vehicle, a shooter on the ground is more likely to hit the bottom of the vehicle and the bullet passes all the way through without hitting anything vital. So for average shooters on the ground who are just shooting for the main body of the helicopter, they could probably shoot all day long and as long as they don't hit the pilot, they're unlikely to hit anything of import. Of course, the shallower the angle, the less likely they are to hit anything, but very few people are able to shoot straight up or down, so most people will be shooting at an angle.

I have to assume if you're shooting from above, you're fairly likely to hit something, since if you're aiming at the center of mass, you're aiming at the engine, and any misses run a risk of hitting the rotors (keep in mind that, with the speed that bullets move, most shots through the plane the rotors spin are very unlikely to actually hit a rotor).

Should a helicopter get hit such that the engine stops operating, it should still maintain a slight gyroscopic effect. I don't know if that will be sufficient to land the vehicle, but it will prevent it from simply falling to the ground (obviously, if the rotors fall off, that's a different matter). This is an interesting difference from airplanes however which, even when out of fuel, can glide a long way and safely land, since helicopters are so energy intensive.

Also keep in mind, tactically, helicopters are unlikely to come close enough for engagement with small arms. From what I understand, medical helicopters are unlikely to enter a hot zone until it's been sufficiently secured, and any combat helicopter is going to stay far away and use its superior firepower to shoot you well before you can even see it.

September 16, 2008, 01:18 PM
This is the kind of topic anti-gunners everywhere prey upon for use against gun owners. Think before you post

And we wonder why 50's are so controversial-:uhoh:

Friendly, Don't Fire!
September 16, 2008, 01:19 PM
Just like anything you might shoot at, I guess it all depends on bullet placement.

Take that for what it's worth, as it's a no-brainer answer.

September 16, 2008, 01:31 PM
Go find a helicoptor forum and ask them.

September 16, 2008, 01:40 PM
nezumi thank you for your well thought out answer.

In regards to JRspicer, I imagined a response like yours would arise from my post. However, there are dozens of more controversial topics on this board. Ie, shooting of JBTs.

Now, I have not, nor will I ever, find myself shooting at a helicopter. However, I felt this was a question that was completely rational to ask on a firearms forum. Just like when people ask about the penetration of specific rounds through, armor, vehicles and even people.

An anti-gunner could go on this board and have a field day at any given time. But, I maintained a very professional demeanor and clearly stated that my interest was sparked from unrealistic movies.

But back to my post, how is this question any different from "whats the best round to stop a person?" Regardless of how justified the person may be in said scenario, the anti-gunners will still look at the fact that someone is getting shot with a gun. Why not help each other out with questions instead of worrying about what the Brady Bunch is up to.

IMO obviosly.

September 16, 2008, 01:40 PM
If one projectile hits something important it's curtains.
If 100 projectiles don't hit anything important it's code 4

September 16, 2008, 01:40 PM
From what I understand, most helicopter crashes are caused by operator error, with the second greatest cause being mechanical failure of some major system or structural component. This is just as true in combat zones as it is elsewhere. Admittedly, additional stress on operator and machine may make failure more likely, but, by and large, hostile fire is not a major cause of helicopter crashes.

When it does happen, the weapons in question are usually either guided missiles or heavy, crew-serviced weapons. It's still pretty rare for helicopters to be seriously damaged by man-portable firearms.

September 16, 2008, 01:41 PM
This is the kind of topic anti-gunners everywhere prey upon for use against gun owners. Think before you post

And we wonder why 50's are so controversial-

Like umpteen other threads started everyday?

What about threads discussing the terminal ballistics of different types of handgun ammo?


September 16, 2008, 01:44 PM
If you were inside the helicopter and had a bee line to the pilot I would assume that it would be very effective. Wouldn't be a good idea unless you know how to fly a helicopter though... lol

I think tossing a big handful of sand into the intake would be a more effective way of taking down a helicopter than shooting it with a handgun.

September 16, 2008, 01:46 PM
Stop playing Call of Duty 4!!! :D

I'm sure with the right amount of rounds, sturdy long gun (SAW) and accuracy, the Heli will go down.

September 16, 2008, 01:48 PM
If one projectile hits something important it's curtains.
If 100 projectiles don't hit anything important it's code 4

Sometimes the simple answer is the correct one. The Golden BB concept is that a relatively insignificant round hitting the wrong (from the pilot's point of view) target will take the aircraft out.

September 16, 2008, 01:50 PM
I read a book called "Chickenhawk" by a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. As I recall - it's been a very long time - the rotors were designed to survive a .50 BMG round I think he describes a tactic of cutting a small LZ with the rotors.

My impression from that book was that the kind of helicopter he was flying could survive a lot of damage.


September 16, 2008, 01:52 PM
thanks for more replies.

and countglockula.....COD4 has taken up much of my time. Those damn heli's wont go down!!! hahaha

September 16, 2008, 01:55 PM
I saw an episode of 'Miami Vice' where Sonny Crockett shot down a helicopter with his handgun. :)

Seriously, considering that a helicopter is just a big metal box attached to an engine, there's lots of space for bullets to pass through without hitting anything. Unless you hit an oil or fuel line, chances are it's going to survive.

Add to that the fact that most people can't hit a moving target on the ground let alone something speeding through the air and you begin to understand why many choppers get shot AT a lot but get SHOT very seldom.

Carlos Cabeza
September 16, 2008, 02:01 PM
At least he pointed out that his question was entirely related to something he saw in the movies. My favorite is the scene in Rambo III when he takes out the Ruskie with a LAWS rocket or RPG. Maybe if you knew exactly which type of Heli you were shooting at and knew where its "vitals" were at you might increase your chances of bringing it down. Wasn't "Blackhawk Down" based on a true story ? Damn Heathens !

September 16, 2008, 02:01 PM
In Vietnam we lost more helicopters to groundfire than anything else.
If you hit the turbine, you'll knock out some of the compressor blades and the rest of the engine will almost certainly self destruct, or sieze up.
The pilot better be up on his autogyro technique because he's going down.
Hitting a tail rotor will cause a hovering chopper to start torquing around as the aircraft now has nothing to counter the spin imparted upon the fuselage by the engine as it spins the main rotor. If the chopper is in forward flight the tail fin may ameliorate this, but it's still in for a nasty landing.
Civilian/commercial choppers like Longrangers and Hughes 500s (the "Magnum P.I." chopper) are very light aluminum skinned vehicles.
Now, shooting at say, an Apache AH64 attack helo ...
They carry a lot of armor. And of course, there's that nasty Chain Gun on the nose and if he returns fire, you will be removed from the scene with tweezers and sponges .......

Bwana John
September 16, 2008, 02:06 PM
I would imangine helicopter operator would be a better target than the helicopter itself if all you got is small arms fire.

September 16, 2008, 02:06 PM
Maybe if you knew exactly which type of Heli you were shooting at and knew where its "vitals" were at you might increase your chances of bringing it down. Wasn't "Blackhawk Down" based on a true story ?

As I understand it, the Somali successes were due largely to using RPGs in which the self-destruct was modified so that the rounds would detonate sooner. They then used them as flak rounds. They picked that trick up from AQ, who learned it in Afghanistan.

Odd Job
September 16, 2008, 02:23 PM
Too broad a question.

What kind of helicopter is it?



It is like


September 16, 2008, 03:08 PM
I personally belive it depends on a number of factors...

1.) What kind of helo? You ain't gonna take down a MI-24 Hind with anything short of a crew-served machine gun or rocket. Too much armor for most firearms to penetrate. The same can't be said for a smaller, lighter aircraft, like a civilian medical helicopter for instance. They tend to be made of aluminum with little to no armor plating. Now one of those could be taken down with a rifle or light machine gun.

2.) Whats the chopper doing? Is it hovering, flying low and fast, or on the ground? Obviously you ain't gonna shoot down a helicopter in flight with an AK. Like its already been said, the angle of fire is going to be all wrong to begin with, and by the time you shoulder your rifle and get an aim for the engine/pilot, it'll be out of range.

If you catch it on the ground or while its hovering you could rip it to shreds. You might not hit anything vital, or you might get lucky and clip a fuel line. It all depends on the luck of the draw.

3.) What do you hit? Again, its been said. An helicopter is a big box with an engine, rotors, and misc. controls with a pilot. Its not unheard of for a 'magic bullet' to hit an oil line, or an unarmored fuel tank, or the engine, and cause the aircraft to crash. But you're probably just gonna punch holes in the fuselage.

So if you must get rid of a helicopter, take it out in the hanger. A little C4 under the fuel tank and a little on the tail does things that'll put a rifle to shame. ;):D

September 16, 2008, 03:28 PM
John McClain can do it with a revolver, but there must be some type of power line nearby.

September 16, 2008, 03:54 PM
This is just silly.

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