What keeps helicopter door gunners from falling out?

There are many facets of this one singular motivational tool which kept me planted in the helicopter, even that one time when I thought I was hooked into the floor and wasn’t.


The first order of fear is what you would expect – fear of falling. In the aforementioned situation, I relied on my tether as little as possible throughout my time flying and always maintained a reference point – whether it be a cabin tie-down fitting, seat cable/leg, or internal hoist. I have always had a fear of heights, so I would keep a firm-but-not-panicked grip on whatever solid part of the airframe which was convenient. However, this “non-tethered” event solidified this habit after I only realized that I was unsecured after 20 minutes during an external load mission around Oahu in ‘97.

Terrain Flight Training Area, or TFTA, Oahu 1998. (Source: author)

The second, and funnier aspect of fear is the fear I instilled as an instructor. I never felt it necessary to underscore my authority through force, but rather I would show that my time spent in instruction was too valuable to waste it on someone who felt that ego and rank trumped experience. In these cases, I chose not to intimidate my students into submission, but to offer wonderful examples of what happens to males if their leg straps are too loose and tether is too long. After that, I would leave the choices of falling out tethered and proper wear of the restraint vest entirely up to them, as long as it was within published regulations. Needless to say, many of them made the desired adjustments and had a hard time with spaghetti afterwards (extrapolate freely/Google images for “loose fitting harness”… or not – I warned you).


Camp Rudder, FL 2013. (Source: author.)

Falling out of the helicopter isn’t the problem, especially if one is properly secured. I have known a half-dozen guys who have fallen out during either hoist, firebuckets, or external load operations, and their stories were always rather funny and involved the pilots looking back and not seeing the crewchief where he was supposed to be. Typically, they figured it out pretty quicky and either they landed to let him back in from his dangling position of arrested peril or the crewchief managed to climb back in. With systems like Mobile Aircrew Restraint System (MARS). I could see that being a better option than the approved method of hooking into one of the 17 tiedown fittings in the floor. However, the Army being the Army, such systems are often overlooked for other projects.


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