A Huey Side Gunners is a crewman tasked with firing and maintaining manually directed armament aboard a Huey Attack Helicopter. The actual role will vary depending on the task given on a particular mission.
The concept of the door gunner originated during the Vietnam War, when helicopters were first used in combat in large numbers. The original personnel who served as early door gunners aboard CH-21, UH-34, and UH-1 helicopters in Vietnam, were enlisted men, with a designated and specially trained crew chief serving as both the aircraft’s maintenance manager and a door gunner. Normally, a second enlisted soldier served as a second door gunner (such as on a UH-1, and UH-34, which both used two gunners – one on each side of the aircraft). Later, as the war progressed, the door gunner position sometimes used a non-aviation rated/trained soldier or marine, that volunteered for door gunner duties.
For the majority of the Vietnam war, the principal weapon of the Huey Side Gunners was a medium machine gun (MG), initially, a M-1919A4 .30 caliber MG, and soon thereafter,
Initially however not all helicopters were armed or outfitted with a dedicated MG for door armament. For example the very first U.S. Army helicopter units, flying CH-21 helicopters, that began flying combat missions in Vietnam in 1962 didn’t. Therefore door gunners on Vietnam photographs are sometimes seen using an M1 Carbine, an M14 rifle, or an M16 rifle, as their only weapon.
Initially, the door gunner’s MG weapons were mounted on swiveling mounts (on a pintle mount) in order to retain and steady the door armament weapon. As the war progressed, using bungee cords to suspend/retain the MG became a common practice, as the newfound maneuverability of these “bungeed” weapons allowed for increased firing angles. However some door gunners simply continued to hand-wield the weapon for a maximum level of maneuverability of fire. This practice was commonly termed as using a Free 60.
Door gunners were normally restrained for safety within the aircraft, by either using a standard lap belt, or if the gunner wanted freedom of movement within the aircraft while still being retained, he used a monkey harness, which was a GI safety harness worn on the torso, and anchored to the aircraft floor, or cabin wall. The monkey harness allowed a door gunner great movement, including to lean outward on the helicopter skids, to get a better firing angle.
According to popular legend, the door gunner on a Vietnam era Huey gunship had a life-span of 5 minutes. This was obviously exaggerated but displays the hazards of this particular military job at the time. Today, helicopters like the UH-60 have two machine guns firing out of two windows located behind the pilots. The CH-46, CH-47 and CH-53 have an additional gun that is fired from the rear ramp. The UH-1 (still in use by the U.S. Marine Corps, as the UH-1Y) is still manned as it was in the Vietnam War, with the gunner firing from the open cabin door.