I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to sit through BAT Defense’s Aerial Target Interdiction Course last Saturday given at Altair in the Florida everglades. I probably won’t be able to do justice to the event. From top to bottom it was awesome. If you’ve “done everything” when it comes to shooting, put this on the “Must Do Next” list.
The class started at 10AM at a classroom on the sprawling Altair facility. Altair Gun Club and ALTAIR Training Solutions deserve their own article. A former high security prison, ALTAIR Training Solutions and Gun Club provide the individual shooter and government organizations an unbelievable spectrum of facilities to meet just about every training need. Shirley Watral, the General Manager for the Gun Club can just about support every client’s requirements ranging from recreational shooting to full immersion scenarios with on facility accommodations to include full seclusion if that’s your operational requirement. You really just have to visit their sites just to see the plethora of ranges and training they host. It runs the full gamut from basic/advanced shooting, to specific niches like vehicle defensive, to personal protection courses and this crown jewel the aerial interdiction course.
Jeff Cotto is the man behind BAT Defense, a former Ranger Battalion veteran he’s put together a group of individuals that provide spectacular instruction. Between the three instructors in this course they share experience gained from over 15 deployments down range employing the latest and most cutting edge techniques tactics and procedures.
The classroom instruction for the Aerial Target Interdiction Course was short, intense and highly relevant to the experience. Jeff strives to get the student shooting as quickly as possible because he believes the best teacher is experience. Students were given about 90 minutes of classroom/lecture style instruction. The facilities administrative rules, point of aim while flying and safely approaching/departing the helicopter as well as weapon’s handling were covered. Assistant instructor “Vegas” provided an emergency procedures safety block of instruction straight out of what one would expect during an operations order, “direct” with a little bit of gallows humor. It was not the first time I would be “taken back” to my days in uniform.
Shortly before moving to the Range we moved outside and met Paul Barth and Ian Veltri from Airborne Tactical Training Solutions (ATTS). We formed around Paul’s desert painted MD500 Hughes “Little Bird” style helicopter (complete with side benches) for a briefing on safely approaching/departing a helicopter and actions on the helicopter. Paul has decades of flying experience, is an instructor pilot and aviation mechanic. He also runs Camera Copters, which provides aviation support to media, movies and just about any user that may need to see the ground from the air. He has a couple dozen movie and TV show credits.
At this point students and cadre left the classroom and barracks billeting compound and drove about a mile to the “range” which was the former high security compound consisting of the jail block houses surrounded by two rows of razor wire topped fences with guard towers in the corner. Running about 500 yards down the center of the compound eight steel white metal plates were deployed in two rough rows. They would serve as the targets for the gun runs.
BAT Defense’s Aerial Target Interdiction course affords the client to experience shooting targets from a helicopter, a technique most commonly utilized by the special operations community, law enforcement SWAT units and hunters with access to a helicopter. The military most often employs small arms from helicopters while isolating an objective keeping enemy “squirters” from escaping or the enemy from reinforcing an objective. The technique also comes in handy in attacking high value targets in transit, overwatching an objective for fleeting targets or unexpected resistance. Law Enforcement can employ the approach in similar situations as well as high speed chases when the public is not in close proximity.
BAT Defense precedes actual flying engagements with a stationary exercise. Paul Barth landed ATTS’s “Little Bird” on a small building and students climbed onto the roof. Each student cycled through engaging two closer targets from both sides of the bird. The dry/wet run allowed Jeff Cotto and his assistant instructor Matt Edmonds ample opportunity to stress safe and proper movement around the helicopter as well as how to buckle in and get the most stable positions possible from the outboard benches to engage targets.
It’s an interesting note that the helicopter used for training is visually very similar to the Army’s Task Force 160’s MH-6 helicopter but there are some fine differences. The military version is instrumented for the primary pilot or “pilot in command”, to fly from the right seat. The various benches on MH-6’s (MH-6 is the designation for troop carrying little birds vs. the minigun armed AH-6’s) are also a bit different. While the military can get by with riders “snapping in” to their outboard Little Bird benches with a safety line the FAA is a bit more demanding. ATTS created FAA compliant benches incorporating tie in points and seat belts.
The excitement was palpable waiting for the actual gun runs to start. Shooting from a helicopter is a pretty unique experience. The shooter has to take into account not only the speed of closure on the target but the angle to properly offset one’s point of aim. Simply put, when a stationary target is positioned through the 9-3 o’clock arc one must hold short of the target to account for one’s forward movement. It’s the opposite when moving away from a target.
BAT Defense graciously allowed me to experience a run. Having personally fired just about every firearm, cannon and missile in the Army’s inventory from 9mm to 120mm and done it from almost every platform I can comfortably say shooting from the bench of a little bird easily ranks at the top of my small arms experiences. Donning some wireless headphones tied into the helicopters intercom we faced away from the backyard sized landing zone to avoid dirt being blown in one’s face. As the helicopter settled to drop off its previous riders we were tapped on the shoulder and moved to our assigned bench cognizant of the spinning blades.
Quickly buckling in, the helicopter gently lifted off flying downrange to pick up speed and executed a banking right turn. It would have been a great opportunity to take it all in but I was busy “lock & loading” and trying to ID targets early. I was also sure to keep facing in the direction of flight for fear of my sunglasses being blown off. (Note to self, “Suicide strap or goggles next time!”). As we finished the banking turn the little bird leveled off and the targets became visible. To ensure the client sees the target and control fires Matt Edmonds who was my instructor, pointed out targets and directed when to cease and shift fire. I loosed six to seven rounds per target ensuring I went to slide lock on the last target as I loaded a fresh magazine. From the strike of my rounds and the dust kicking up I’d meekly say I achieved 30% accuracy. I don’t remember looking straight into the ground on the sweeping left turn of the helo even though I’m sure I was facing it. Too busy “lock & loading” a fresh magazine and not being “that guy” that dropped his magazine.
The second run went very much like the first. I’d like to think I shot better and Matt graciously said I did well but it is exceedingly difficult to do precision shooting from a moving helicopter. As one can imagine, sitting on outboard benches engaging targets is exhilarating. It’s a very unique experience that very few have ever had. The ballistics alone is challenging. Being a couple of hundred feet in the air and flying at 40 knots or so doesn’t make it any easier. Mr. Ziebarth a student at the course filmed his run and graciously allowed me to link it. If you’d like to experience a gun run vicariously check it out.
Afterwards, Jeff conducted a post class AAR and demonstrated a unique holster he was wearing and was developed by Vegas one of his assistant instructors for those who don’t have both hands free while shooting like K-9 handlers. There was little to add to BAT Defense’s execution. Sure it’d be nice for things to blow up when you shoot them but the reality is assessing how effective your shooting is and adjusting it is a real world task. Maybe for a graduation event a load of tannerite? Who knows? BAT Defense earns very high marks for their instruction. Taking a bunch of individuals (most with little to no experience around helicopters) with very varied shooting experiences and providing them a safe, yet satisfying experience shooting from an aircraft is no easy task.
BAT Defense delivered excellent instruction and even more challenging, one on one coaching and supervision that didn’t make the event seem canned or restrictive. Doing this sort of stuff real world wouldn’t entail shooters being escorted to the helicopter, handed magazines or being specifically directed which target to shoot at. BAT Defense was able to do that without making the shooter feel like they were being led by the nose. Hey, this isn’t easy and there are real world concerns when operating around helicopters. Loading/unloading, avoiding whirring blades, keeping the shooting safe and inside the designated range are very real concerns and BAT Defense handled them superbly while giving their students a once in a lifetime experience.
I strongly encourage any shooter to look up BAT Defense and get their instruction. I know I will and am looking forward to the next time I can interact with these guys. Jeff Cotto has put together an outstanding team that provides EXCELLENT instruction by some soft spoken and extremely competent former service members. I can’t imagine getting better instruction anywhere else and their Aerial Interdiction Course is a singular life event.