What Does an Air Gunner Do?

Dan Cavallari

An air gunner is a member of a military who operates heavy artillery mounted to aircraft. Such personnel was much more common in generations past, well before the advent of automatically controlled artillery, and today most air gunner personnel will work in helicopters rather than airplanes. In the past, however, an aircraft might have had up to five gunners on board an airplane during combat, with each person operating a different gun or type of artillery throughout the course of a flight. Tail gunners, for example, would work exclusively in the rear, or tail, or the plane, while a nose gunner would work in the front of the craft.

Most air gunner personnel work in helicopters.
Most air gunner personnel work in helicopters.

The job responsibilities of the air gunner today are quite similar to the duties performed by gunners in the past. The air gunner will inspect the artillery before a flight takes place to make sure it is in proper working order. If necessary, he or she will mount the guns to the aircraft during this time. Once the guns are mounted and inspected, the air gunner may be responsible for loading ammunition onto the plane. Before the flight gets underway, the gunner may need to brief passengers regarding what to do in the event of an armed conflict, and he or she will need to stay in constant contact with the pilots to ensure coordination during the mission.

During a battle, the air gunner will shoot various types of artillery at enemy targets, which means the gunner is often a main target of the enemies. The hazards of this job are extremely high, and the air gunner risks severe injury or death while on duty. The gunner must stay near the artillery in order to fire it properly, so he or she will have limited mobility during a battle. This was particularly problematic in the past on certain aircraft; tail gunners would often be the targets of trailing aircraft that would aim to neutralize that weapon by shooting at the gunner.

The gunner will also need to be able to repair artillery during the flight and operate other pieces of equipment necessary to complete the job. This may involve the use of night vision goggles, mechanical or hydraulic systems, or manual systems. He or she will also need to be able to read schematics, maps, and written instructions, even in extremely hazardous or stressful situations. Various communications systems are also used by gunners during an operation.

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