What It's Like to Shoot a Machine Gun from a Helicopter Over the Nevada Desert

Review: Machine Gun Helicopters of Las Vegas

Stephen Gutowski living his best life / Machine Gun Helicopters pilot
July 29, 2017

Imagine yourself several hundred feet off the ground, zipping through the air in a Eurocopter AS350 B2 A-Star helicopter, Credence Clearwater Revival blaring over your headset, wind in your face, and nothing between yourself and the Nevada desert floor but some rope and the grace of God. Now, put a fully automatic M-249 SAW in your hands.

That's what Machine Gun Helicopters of Las Vegas offers for just under $700 and, well, it's even more amazing than it sounds. How do I know that? Because I traveled to Vegas and tried out the experience myself.

The adventure started out in a low-key manner. A nondescript white van picked me up from my hotel. We drove out toward the desert on the highways that are nearly abandoned in the early morning but otherwise serve as the lifeline to the oasis city. About 10 minutes off the Strip, civilization disappears, and you're left with nothing but desert scenery—uninhabited mountains and valleys as far as the eye can see. After the miles of empty freeway turned into miles of empty two-lane state roads—the desertscape interrupted only on occasion by the random road sign—we hit the dirt road that leads to the private mini-mountain range Machine Gun Helicopters calls home.

Then the helicopter arrived.

The chopper crested the horizon and slowly descended onto the gravel landing pad a few feet away from where I stood. I couldn't help but wonder if this was really happening. Was I was really about to fly in and fire a machine gun from a helicopter gunship? As I watched the two crew members carry the SAW and ammo box to the Eurocopter AS350 that had just touched down on the valley floor, it felt as though my life had become a movie.

I mean, a helicopter gunship tearing across the sky at twilight? Add a giant alien robot and an explosion or two and you've got a Michael Bay movie.

Except, in this case, none of it was computer generated. There were no special effects. The helicopter was real. The machine gun was real. The ammunition was live. And I was about to be hanging out the side of the aircraft shooting at targets on the side of a mountain.

Even watching from the ground was exciting. As the first guest in my group climbed in the helicopter, it lifted off the ground but only a few feet. It then turned to face me and buzzed by just above my head—kicking up the desert sand and dust the whole way. When the chopper circled the mountain in the near distance and a burst of 5.56 x 45 mm NATO rounds rang out in quick succession, the reverberating thuds hammered home the cinematic atmosphere of it all.

Then it was my turn.

Now, I'd never been in a helicopter before so I saw the entire flight with eyes wide open. I have to say, there's nothing I've experienced to this point that's quite like cruising above a mountain with one side of your aircraft removed. As the air rushed past me while the introduction guitar riff from Paint it Black was twanging over my wireless headset, we began to circle the range. When we reached the first target area the helicopter slowed and hovered as I let the SAW run free. A few moments later we moved down the ridge, and I let the SAW loose again. We then circled the summit and the SAW got one more chance to live its best life—and so did I.

There wasn't any napalm but the smell of victory was in the air. It was glorious. Once the SAW was tapped out, the chopper pilot put a cherry on top and took us on a high-speed canyon run with sharp turns that put the aircraft's sides nearly parallel to the ground.

Machine Gun Helicopters has a number of safety measures in place for all of this action, of course. There's a safety harness and a safety line that keep you strapped to the chopper while allowing you to move around. In addition to the pilot, there are two other crew members who are responsible for ensuring you remain safely attached to the helicopter, loading the gun, and clearing any malfunctions. They're there to ensure you have a good time but also that you're safe.

After landing, we got back in the nondescript white van, tossed the machine guns in the back, and took off toward Sin City. Along the way we pulled up beside an armored truck, and everyone knew we had more than enough firepower to pull off the job. We joked about what we'd do with our cut, I called dibs on the SAWs, and—for a moment—I thought perhaps a different movie was about to begin. Of course, I'm sitting here in the Free Beacon office looking at Sonny Bunch's latest novelty lapel pin so we didn't play that particular script out. Maybe next time?

It wasn't all fun and games, though. Like any honest reviewer, I feel compelled to include some of the downsides of the experience. For one, I've never been to Las Vegas in the summer, and the moment I stepped out of the airport I felt as though I'd stepped into a pizza oven. It was never under 100 degrees the entire time I was there. I suppose the targets I was shooting at from the helicopter could've been more interesting. Plus, the NBA Summer League was in town and the San Antonio Spurs were staying at my hotel—all the professional basketball players walking around made me feel short. Also, the gun jammed a couple times during the flight and that was kind of ann—OH WHO AM I KIDDING THIS WAS ONE OF THE MOST INCREDIBLE EXPERIENCES I'VE EVER HAD IN MY ENTIRE LIFE! EVERYBODY SHOULD DO THIS!

Published under: Feature