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Sniping the Cockpit

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"He's not protected in there."
Jarmen Kell, Command & Conquer: Generals

No matter how badass your Cool Tank, Cool Plane, or Humongous Mecha may be, its crew is still often made up of flesh-and-blood human beings who, once you get past the vehicle's armor plating, are just as vulnerable to damage as any other. Enemies who have Armor Piercing weaponry may come to realize that they can stop your rampaging murder machines with just a few well-placed rounds to the cockpit. In the same manner that a well-placed shot to the head can instantly kill a human being, an attack that deliberately targets and kills the pilot can stop a vehicle without having to exert the time, energy, and resources to reduce it to scrap metal.

This is common in newer First-Person Shooter games, where killing the pilot or other crew can take the vehicle or some of its weapons out of action until those stations can be manned again. Sometimes, especially if the vehicle itself has a Crew of One, it can also be used so that the opposing force can hijack the vehicle and turn it against its owners.

Car Chase Shoot-Out and Disposable Pilot often overlap with this. Contrast In-Vehicle Invulnerability. Can lead to a Dead Foot Leadfoot.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Subverted in Area 88, where a sniper who has managed to lock down the entire base doesn't try hitting the cockpit until the end of the episode, and fails.
  • In Attack on Titan the weak spot at the base of a Titan's neck turns out to be where their human body, specifically the head, is located.
    • A much more conventional example shows up later during the raid on Liberio. Sasha neutralizes one of the Cart Titan's mounted turrets by shooting one of the gunners straight between the eyes.
  • Standard operating procedure for the mecha in Bokurano.
  • In an episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, the pilot of an armed attack helicopter suffers from a (deliberately induced) heart attack, which causes the A.I. in his aircraft to malfunction and refuse to acknowledge stand-down orders since it believes the brain-dead pilot is still in control. Once Saito puts a round through the comatose pilot's head, the A.I. takes back full control and returns the aircraft back to base on its own.
  • Macross:
    • Macross Zero: The introduction of D.D. Ivanov, one of the primary antagonists, is this. Captain Roy Focker had just saved a newbie from getting Macross Missile Massacre'd to death, and said newbie gets sniped in the cockpit for Roy's trouble.
    • Macross Delta: This is how Messer meets his end, as Keith fires a burst from his nose cannon directly into the cockpit. This is indicated to be a deliberate shot rather than a fluke, highlighting the White Knight's inhuman skill at flying.
  • In the Mazinger trilogyMazinger Z, Great Mazinger and UFO Robo Grendizer — aiming for the cockpit (clearly visible in the two first robots) is a common tactic constantly employed by villains... and the army when the Government turns on the heroes (which also is an alarmingly common occurrence). In fact, it happened in the first Mazinger-Z manga chapter (Mazinger went on a rampage due to Kouji thinking Falling into the Cockpit was a good idea. Several tanks attacked Mazinger, deliberately aiming for the cockpit). And in a Great Mazinger manga episode, a Warbeast is holding Great Mazinger still as Marquis Janus orders to snipe the cockpit. However, the Humongous Mecha builders had the cockpits specially reinforced to protect the pilot.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam:
    • In the first episode, Amuro dispatches the second Zaku that attacked Side 7 by stabbing it through the cockpit with his beam saber - the first one he just cut in half, causing its reactor to go critical and subsequently punch a hole right through the side of the colony.
    • The last episode features the ultimate example of this, when Char kills the entire bridge of a Zanzibar-class mobile cruiser as a side effect of executing a Boom, Headshot! on Kycilia with a bazooka.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket similarly has its final battle end with the Alex's beam saber stabbed through the cockpit of Bernie's Zaku, though unlike Amuro's second kill in the original series it still blows up anyway.
  • Inverted in Mobile Suit Gundam SEED: the Technical Pacifist Kira eventually trains himself to render any Humongous Mecha inoperable without any damage to the cockpit.
    • Kira has this attempted against him in the sequel by Shinn Asuka, but unknown to Shinn he's saved by virtue of the fact that the Freedom Gundam's cockpit is not in it's waist like nearly every other Mobile Suit of the setting but in it's upper chest, because it's special nuclear reactor is where a typical cockpit would be. Unfortunately this means Shinn unknowingly stabs into the reactor instead causing Kira to have to quickly shut it down before he, Shinn and everything near by goes up in a nuclear fireball.
  • This is, for self-evident reasons, treated as very much off-limits in the spars of the military school of Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury: suit weapons operate on reduced power, cockpits are reinforced heavily, targeting computers are set specifically to not aim for the cockpit, and the win condition of most duels is to destroy a structure on the mech's head, located far away from the pilot. Aiming for the cockpit is considered a faux pas in duels, comparable to hitting below-the-belt in boxing or going for the eyes in a martial arts match. When a terrorist pilot does aim for a student's cockpit with military-grade weaponry and vaporizes them in a single shot, it is treated as a rather terrifying moment.
    • This later happens (ironically) to Norea, perpetrator of the above kill, during her second rampage across Asticassia. Dominicus forces are able to put a sniper shot right through the machine's cockpit, vaporizing the pilot but leaving the rest of the suit intact.

    Comic Books 
  • Kir Kanos is able to do this to a TIE Interceptor that's strafing his allies in the first Crimson Empire miniseries.
  • All-New Ultimates: Taskmaster fires to the driver of the van by accident, when Spider-Man tries to disarm him.
  • In the Commando story "Crackshot Craig", the eponymous Craig is an ex-SAS marksman who gets caught up in a civil war in an unnamed South American country. When the rebel stronghold is attacked by government forces, Craig manages to shoot down a light-attack aircraft by killing the pilot with an antique Lee-Enfield rifle.
  • A non-lethal variation occurs in the DuckTales arc "Scrooge's Quest"; Launchpad stops the machine the Beagle Boys are using in their latest attempt to rob the Money Bin by throwing a money bag at the driver's head and knocking him out.
  • Judge Dredd: In the "Helter Skelter" story, the bad guys send two H-wagons (massively armored flying gunships) after Judge Dredd and the scientist they need to complete their plans. Dredd takes one of them out by shooting the pilot with an ordinary Lawgiver gun.
  • The Saint of Killers from Preacher pulls off several of these against a tank battalion. Of course, his magic guns (which were forged by Satan himself from the Angel of Death's sword) are guaranteed to never miss and always inflict fatal wounds no matter who or what they're aimed at, so really all he has to do is point, fire, and somehow someone is going to die. Whether it's by going through the tank's periscope, hitting and blowing up a round in the tank's gun, or simply by penetrating the armor, it's immaterial.
  • Referenced and averted in Sin City: To Hell And Back. One Mook tries this on Wallace. Wallace notes that it only works in the movies and that the mook should aim for the car, instead of the driver.

    Fan Works 
  • Bait and Switch (STO):
    • In chapter six Tess hits the crew compartment of an Orion interceptor with one of the USS Bajor's aft phaser strips. The ship goes out of the fight on a ballistic course. A few minutes later she duplicates it with a quantum torpedo salvo to the bridge of an Orion corvette, although this is frankly overkill.
    • Tess seems to have a habit of this: in Two Sides of a Coin she fatally damages a Tal Shiar D'deridex-class battlecruiser with a precision shot to the bridge after battering its shields down, causing it to go out of control and crash into an asteroid. Eleya even refers to it as "taking a headshot".

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In 2 Guns, Stig puts a single shot through the windscreen of an orbiting helicopter and takes out the pilot.
  • Used extensively in Avatar by the native Na'vi to take down human gunships and Mini-Mecha. Arrows - even Na'vi arrows, which are the size of broomsticks and launched with proportionately extreme force - can't do much against an armored hull; but with the speed of a dive-bombing Ikran behind it, a Na'vi warrior's shot can punch straight through both canopy glass and pilot.
  • This Major Kobakov's plan for stopping the blimp in Black Sunday. He succeeds, but Lander turns out to be Not Quite Dead, and sets his backup plan in motion.
  • Capt. Hale in Broken Arrow takes out the first helicopter by shooting the pilot through the cockpit glass. The pilot keels over the controls, the chopper turns over, crashes, and explodes.
  • In the opening mission of Flight of the Intruder, the protagonist's navigator is shot through the throat by a carefully aimed shot fired by a VC armed with a bolt-action rifle, after surviving a hail of ack-ack fire. In the original book, it was a one-in-a-million accident from the VC firing into the air in the rough direction of their A-6.
  • In the World War I movie Flyboys, many of the pilots are killed in their cockpits. In the final fight the hero kills the German Ace with a well-placed shot from a revolver while they are flying side-by-side.
  • This trope is brought up in Independence Day, where Dr. Okun is asked by the president if the alien invaders can be killed. He replies that "Their bodies are just as frail as ours ... You just have to get past their technology, which is, I'm sorry to say, far more advanced".
  • The Hong Kong action film Magnificent Warriors / Dynamite Warriors (starring Michelle Yeoh) have the Action Girl heroine taking down a Japanese fighter plane by shooting its cockpit with a flare.
  • Mc Bain: The titular character (Christopher Walken) stopped a jet from taking off by shooting the pilot. With a pistol. From at least 200 meters away, through thick airplane glass windows and the pilot's helmet. Somehow it works.
  • In Pacific Rim, the war between humanity and the Kaiju took a turn for the worse when the Kaiju begin targeting the pilots inside of the Jaegers more directly.
  • In Primal, Loffeler kills the two marshals manning the bridge of the ship by making a Boom, Headshot! on each of them from the prow of the ship. He then trashes the bridge to render the ship unsteerable.
  • Red Tails: 332nd pilot Lightning and German ace Pretty Boy end up machine-gunning each other's cockpits in a head-to-head pass at the climax. Pretty Boy dies almost instantly, but we're left watching Lightning slowly bleed out in his cockpit as his plane slowly falls to a fiery crash.
  • In Return of the Jedi, this leads to the loss of the Imperial Super Star Destroyer Executor as a result of a Taking You with Me attack from a crippled Rebel starfighter plowing into the bridge. The massive ship was sent careening out of control and crashed into the Death Star.
  • Revenge (2017): Stan finds Jen walking along a narrow mountain track and attempts to run her down. Jen puts a single shot through the windscreen and straight through his forehead.
  • Sky Bandits: As the bomber comes in on a bombing run over the infantry, Luke and Barney open fire with six-guns. One of them manages to hit the pilot, causing the bomber to crash.
  • Attempted by Lursa and B'Etor in Star Trek: Generations when they order their gunner to target the Enterprise's bridge. Unfortunately for them, the Enterprise-D crew gets their shields down first by triggering a cloaking device activation cycle on the Bird-of-Prey, followed by putting a torpedo into the Duras sisters' ship's reactor.

  • Shooting the pilots is noted to be an effective tactic against Ork flyers in the Ciaphas Cain novel The Last Ditch. One of the 597th's troopers, the accident-prone "Jinxie" Penlan, once did it by accident when she used the butt of her lasgun as a mallet and it went off.
  • Semi-averted in the Star Wars: Jedi Knight novella. Kyle Katarn attempts to shoot a TIE Fighter that's chasing the Moldy Crow with his blaster pistol. It does nothing but leave a large crack in the fighter's viewport. Said crack did completely wreck the pilot's vision, however, causing him to crash into a wall.
  • In Halo: First Strike, Linda-058 snipes down several Banshee pilots by shooting them through the tiny crack between their Banshees' body and canopy. While hanging upside down and firing one-handed.
  • In Harry Turtledove's World War series, aliens invade in the middle of World War II. While the Lizards have technology and vehicles far superior to WWII era tanks and planes, they're still vulnerable to things like a tank commander getting his head blown off when he sticks his head out of the hatch.
  • Discussed in Neal Stephensonís Snow Crash: Hiro Protagonist threatens to shoot through the windshield of a Hind helicopter:
    L. Bob Rife: Itís bulletproof! Haw!
    Hiro: No it isnít, as the rebels in Afghanistan found out.
  • X-Wing Series:
    • Tycho Celchu's trademark is doing this with full-sized starfighter guns.
    • In the eighth book of the series, Isard's Revenge, Wedge lands a cockpit shot on an AT-AT.
    • In the tenth book, Mercy Kill, Friendly Sniper Wran Narcassan brings down a distant flying vehicle with a single shot through its pilot.
    • In Wraith Squadron, Piggy seizes an entire corvette by threatening to do this from the inside. Granted, he's standing on the bridge, holding a sawed-off X-Wing laser cannon pointed at the viewscreen, so it's a feasible threat.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Battlestar Galactica, Starbuck pulls off a variant of this against a Cylon raider she is duelling. Given the nature of the Raiders in this setting, however, this also overlaps with Boom, Headshot!.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Spiral", the Knights of Byzantium are having real trouble stopping the Scoobies' motorhome (mostly because it has a Buffy on it) until one of them drives a lance through the cockpit and through Giles.
  • A variation happens in CSI: Miami when a civilian causes a small engine plane to go down by blinding the pilot with the red light from a laser pointer.
  • Happens on occasion in Dogfights, but the most prominent example is during the episode "Kamikaze", where a US Navy Wildcat pilot manages to hit the cockpit of a kamikaze "Kate" torpedo bomber and help relieve pressure on the USS Laffey.
  • In Love/Hate, this appears to be Darren's specialty, as he's done it twice over the course of the series and one of those was a Boom, Headshot!. With a pistol.
  • While it's not exactly attacking the pilot as such, robots in both Robot Wars and BattleBots have occasionally been disabled and eliminated by having their transmission receivers attacked and damaged, leaving the machine functionally intact and operable but preventing the driver from controlling it any further and knocking it out. While machines with visible external aerials would most often fall victim to this by having them snapped or cut off, on rare occasions a precision axe blow or piercing spike would go through armour and take out an internal receiver.
  • In the Stargate SG-1 episode "48 Hours", Teal'c takes down an al'kesh bomber by shooting the cockpit. With the gun from a Death Glider. As the bomber was manned by his much-hated enemy Tanith, Teal'c was quite satisfied with himself.
  • In the Bad Future episode "Twilight" of Star Trek: Enterprise, we get to see the threatened situation from Generations played out, as the titular ship's bridge is destroyed (with several main characters on it) by directed precision fire from several Xindi ships, after they knock down the Enterprise's new Andorian-supplied shields. Yet another reason why a vessel's bridge has no business being so exposed.

    Music Videos 
  • In the Gorillaz clip for "On Melancholy Hill", Noodle manages to hit the cockpit of one of the pirate planes attacking her cruise ship with her machine gun, sending it crashing into the sea.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Largely averted in BattleTech. While head hits will hurt a Mech's pilot and may knock him or her out (and the head is usually the weakest spot on the whole giant armored war machine, period), actually aiming for the head is almost impossible unless the pilot is already unconscious or the reactor has shut down. However, as technology and firepower have advanced through rediscovered Lost Technology and new innovations, this can happen by chance much more often; there are a number of "headchopper" weapons like the Gauss Rifle that can kill any mech with a single lucky hit on the head.
  • Warhammer40000
    • Defied by the Tau. The heads of their Mini-Mecha are just redundancy camera pods, and the pilot's head is buried deep in the mech's chest.
    • Played straight for anyone who is not a Tau pilot. Tau railgun punches through the cockpit, and the momentum from it is such that the body of the pilot is sucked through the projectile's exit hole, becoming a long trail of gore and viscera along the way.

    Video Games 
  • Uber Soldier 2 has vehicle sections where you man a fixed gun, and are followed by enemy vehicles. You can blow them up with sustained firepower, or you can fire a few bullets at the driver and see the otherwise undamaged vehicle careen off and explode.
  • Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War:
    • In the Assault Records section, a record detailing every enemy Ace Pilot that you've shot down, one particular enemy ace was notorious for doing this, so much that he was nicknamed "The Guillotine". The Record goes on to state that he was shot and killed after bailing out over the recently-liberated capital.
    • In the game itself, this also happens to the XB0 Hresvelgr, which Eagle Eye orders you to attack the cockpit of to "mess up his steering."
    • This is mentioned in enemy chatter in the previous game, as the 8492nd Squadron don't want to leave any witnesses alive to implicate them after their ambush.
  • In Aqua Nox, one of the early weapons has a sniper mode, which is specifically designed to invoke this trope. If you manage to snipe the cockpit of an enemy sub, it will implode instantly. Why a heavier shot with another weapon to the same area won't do the same is not explained. It's also not easy to hit a maneuvering target in the relatively small cockpit, especially since you should also be maneuvering.
  • This is usually not possible in Armored Core, which sits the pilots of the titular ACs/NEXTs in the chest area (or "Core") of the craft, which as the name of the series implies, is almost always the most heavily armored part of the whole mech. Last Raven, however, introduces Subsystem Damage which allows individual parts of your AC to be specifically damaged or destroyed. The Core is usually the last thing to go, but if it does, the rest of your AC goes down with it.
  • Battlefield
    • In Battlefield 2, the M95 sniper rifle and (occasionally) rockets are capable of bypassing the bulletproof cockpit glass of helicopters and jets, and killing the pilot.
    • This also works in Battlefield 3, as beautifully demonstrated in this vid. Most helicopters' windshields are bulletproof though, so it can only be done with sniper rifles or vehicle mounted machine guns. The Scout Helicopter's windshield is not bulletproof however, so you can just spray at it hoping to kill the pilot.
  • BattleTech: Any hit on a 'mech has a tiny (about 3%) chance of striking the head. Any head hit, no matter how hard, inflicts a wound on the pilot, with the head's destruction being a One-Hit Kill. Aimed shots can increase this chance, to a maximum of 18% in the lategame, where "headchopper" weapons capable of destroying the head in one or two solid blows also become uncomfortably common. The game offers a pair of achievements for this: "One Shot" for doing this in a way that destroys the head and "Surgical Extraction" for doing it without destroying the head (or any other part of the 'mech).
  • Battlezone had a sniper rifle precisely to allow the player to do this. It was limited to three shots and difficult to aim due to how the scope was implemented, but if you scored a hit you could steal anything short of walkers, including superheavy bombers. The sniper rifle returns in the sequel, Combat Commander, gaining infinite regenerating ammo at the cost of being incapable of penetrating the heavily reinforced cockpits of heavier vehicles.
  • Borderlands
    • In Borderlands 2, some bandit enemies will pilot airborne vehicles called Buzzards. Shooting the pilot will result in a critical hit. However, since Buzzards are almost constantly in motion, it's extremely difficult to get a good shot at the pilot unless you're very quick on the draw and it's coming right at you.
    • Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! has something similar with the Dahl jetfighters, which have the cockpit windows as weak points. Also, the pilots of Dahl mech suits serve as the weak points of said mech suits.
  • In Bulletstorm, you can bring down gyrocopters by shooting the pilot, which earns you a "Skyjack" skillshot.
  • In the Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare mission "One Shot, One Kill" you do this to an Mi-28 Havoc after it discovers your sniper's nest. Then Captain MacMillan does it to another Havoc, which almost crashes on top of him, breaking his leg.
  • From the Command & Conquer series:
  • In Crysis, the only way to take an enemy vehicle is to kill its crew. A few well placed shots can net you an undamaged vehicle.
  • In Elite Dangerous, the canopy on all starships can be shot out if the ship's shields are down. The canopy will crack before dramatically exploding outwards, causing your spacesuit helmet to automatically close and engage a limited duration life support system, giving you between 5 and 25 minutes depending on the upgrade level to land and repair. Of particular note is losing your canopy also causes you to lose most of your heads-up display, forcing pilots to eyeball their shots and guess their weapons ammo or Over Heating status.
  • Empire Earth: the Partisan unit is able to shoot airplanes as in the Real Life entry below (and due to game mechanics, not just the early biplanes and triplanes either- they'll cheerfully shoot down futuristic nuclear bombers and supersonic fighters). While not a one-hit kill, it can come as a very nasty surprise to an enemy, since they can move through trees and can be produced in much greater quantities than an Anti-Air unit.
  • In Fallout 4, taking out the pilot of a Vertibird causes an immediate crash-and-burn.
  • In From the Depths, the most heavily armored battleship can be taken out of action by destroying its AI mainframe, which is by default a high-priority target. As such, the ship designers usually bury the mainframe as deeply as possible in the hull, and some vessels even have multiple redundant mainframes to prevent lucky shots from completely nullifying expensive vessels.
  • Some Front Mission games allow you to do this, notably in Front Mission 3. Not only are there specific skills to do just this, but attaining hits to the torso region has a chance of damaging the pilot. Often, if the roll is particularly unlucky, a pilot can die from a single concentrated shotgun burst to the torso, leaving their Wanzer intact. Not only pragmatically useful (killing enemy pilots from otherwise strong Wanzers is one way to avoid prolonged combat), the fact that you can sell the captured Wanzers later makes for one heck of a Videogame Cruelty Potential.
  • In FTL: Faster Than Light, hitting a ship's room with non-ion weapons not only damages the ship's hull (unless it's a bomb) and systems, but also whatever crew happens to be inside. It is thus possible to kill off the crew of a ship with just your weapons rather than sending a Boarding Party, although in most cases the enemy ship will crumble from hull failure before the crew's lifebars are depleted. The Anti-Bio Beam is designed specifically for destroying enemy crew without damaging the hull, so a crew-kill, no-teleport victory is most feasible with it, but if the enemy ship has a medbay, it'll be useless unless you destroy the medbay.
  • Mecha in GearHead always have their cockpits in either the torso or head. Aiming specifically for a torso-mounted cockpit will almost always result in destroying the vehicle entirely through HP damage, but headshotting a machine with a head-mounted cockpit will allow you to recover the mostly-intact mecha.
  • Discussed in one between-mission cutscene in Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, where two members of the squad overhear Navy men in the messdeck talking about a sniper who shot down an enemy gunship by nailing the pilot through the canopy with one shot and promptly destroyed everything else under it when it came crashing down. Said squad members then imply that at least one of them (the sniper of the group) was there and responsible for that, with one noting that he remembers the "one shot" being with an RPG rather than a sniper rifle; they choose not to correct the story because "their version's better".
  • The first boss of the Shoot 'Em Up game Gondomania is a Humongous Mecha whose pilot's pod is exposed, and the only way to damage him is to aim for the pod. The onscreen hint even says, "shoot the pilot!"
  • In Grand Theft Auto, it's possible to do this to NPCs since Vice City. In IV, you can also do this in multiplayer (and have it happen to you, so be careful). Rather difficult though, due to both players and NPCs actively avoiding this.
  • Halo:
    • In Halo: Combat Evolved, the powerful Scorpion tank has the driver's head completely open to the air. Since the tank is so slow, a sniper can kill the driver quite easily. This bit of idiotic vehicle engineering was rectified in subsequent games by adding a metal hatch to deflect sniper bullets. Still, if the tank takes enough damage, the cockpit hatch will fall off, allowing for an easy sniper kill once again.
    • From Halo: Reach onward, you can use a sniper weapon to 1-hit-kill Banshee pilots if you can get your shot through the tiny crack between the Banshee's canopy and body. Mind you, Banshees are agile air vehicles, with Halo 5: Guardians making it even harder snipe their pilots by giving the Banshees recharging energy shields.
  • James Bond: Agent Under Fire uses this as a Bond Move several times. Later games abandoned it for two reasons: first, the game's control scheme makes it really hard to do well; second, the game used it over and over through the last five or six levels.
  • Land of War - The Beginning have the stage where you're on a jeep, and pursued by a German half-track who's heavily armored and impervious to your bullets. You aim for the slit where the half-track's driver should be - fire enough shots and the half-track drives off a cliff to it's demise.
  • In Mass Effect 3, Cerberus's giant Atlas mechs are somewhat vulnerable to this trope — while, as the codex entry suggests, their giant crystal canopies are less vulnerable than they ought to be, they can be broken. In singleplayer, Shepard can then steal the unit in question. (However, since its canopy has been shot out, he's now equally vulnerable...)
  • In the MechWarrior series, destroying the cockpit of a battlemech is one of the fastest ways to take it out of action, but hitting the tiny, bouncing target requires extreme precision. Even if the mech comes to a complete stop and is standing still, you will still have a lot of trouble trying to aim for the cockpit since Hitbox Dissonance seems to plague every iteration of the series due to the enforced design choice stemming from the developers' decision to stick with the original boardgame's idea of disregarding the use of hitboxes in order to prevent players from scoring ridiculously easy headshots, therefore frustratingly subverting both this trope and Boom, Headshot! as if to give players more headaches. In the Mercenaries series of Expansion Packs and in MechCommander, taking out a mech by killing the pilot is a great way to make the most money off of battlefield salvage - a blown out cockpit is far cheaper to replace than a damaged reactor - and allows you to get heavy or assault mechs very early in the game. In Mechwarrior Living Legends, killing the pilot opens it up the mech for a friendly Powered Armor player to steal and return to base for repairs or salvaging.
  • One of the final enemies to show up in the opening stage of the original Mega Man X are "Road Attackers", guys in red cars with plasma cannons on the hoods and spikes on the bumpers, who chase you down, firing the cannons and trying to run you over. Interestingly, they have multiple damage states depending on how much you hit them, and the first one takes out the driver - the car will keep rolling until you damage it a bit more, but without the driver it won't turn around to keep chasing you or fire its cannon at you, and can only damage you if you let it run you over.
  • In Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Quiet does this quite impressively to an enemy pilot following Snake in a jet fighter while the two of them were inside a helicopter. It was later spelled out exactly how badass this was, as she had to compensate for the movements of both vehicles, among other things. In gameplay, Snake himself can pull this off against enemy helicopters with the help of an anti-materiel rifle.
  • Subverted by the Hammer-Yang speedboat enemies in Metal Slug series. The pilots are exposed and are vulnerable to damage — as soon as they're shot, they die. However, the speedboat still attacks with its homing missiles despite the pilot being deceased, and the vehicle itself (which is far more durable) needs to be destroyed.
  • Operation Flashpoint and ARMA allow this, depending on the vehicle and the size of your gun. It's very difficult to pull off, of course; thankfully, you can also take out the engine or some other critical part instead, if simply denying it to the enemy is more important than using it yourself.
  • PlanetSide 1 had complete pilot protection against normal weapons - even, bizzarely, the completely exposed ATV riders - but a special Ancient Vanu weapon, the Radiator, lobbed out "grenades" that would create a ~5m wide bubble of lingering radiation that would go through walls and could kill vehicle occupants. Though the vehicle occupants had to be either an idiot or already wounded, as the Radiator did very little damage per tick. Planetside 2 doesn't let players be killed while in enclosed cockpits, though you're free to shoot people off of their Flash, Harasser pickup bed, or Valkyrie rumble seats.
  • The Chinese version of Plants vs. Zombies 2: It's About Time has the Zombie Fighter enemies in the Sky City era, small Imps riding miniature fighter planes that fire rapidly at your plants and house for chip damage. The Imp can be killed by attacking it with lobbed shots, which stops the plane from shooting... and makes it perform a headlong charge towards your house, dealing massive damage to all plants in its path and your house if it crashes into it.
  • Killing the pilot is one way to score a victory in Red Baron. As in Real Life, the open cockpits of many planes provide relatively little protection to the crew.
  • Games in the Saints Row series have this as a means of getting rid of aircraft. You could shoot helicopters so full of bullets that they catch fire and plunge to the ground in a big fireball, you could create a firework in the sky with some kind of explosive, but it's also possible to get one well-aimed shot in on the cockpit to achieve the same effect as the first method. The same thing can be done with airports in the second game. Shoot the pilot dead and watch the plane coast to a stop in front of you... or drop to the ground and explode.
  • Shadow Guardian have a cutscene where Jason takes down a helicopter by jumping on the cockpit (avoiding the rotors) and putting two bullets into the pilot from point-blank. He then jumps off and clings on a nearby balcony as the helicopter crashes in the streets.
  • Silent Scope justifies this since the player only uses a sniper rifle. In one level you can take down a Harrier jet in one shot by scoring a headshot on either pilot - in another car chase level you can render everyone in a car ineffective by shooting the driver. This includes the boss, who attacks by trying to run you down with a hijacked semi. The helicopter miniboss in the same level is a subversion, as you take it down by shooting its rotor shaft rather than the cockpit.
  • Sniper Elite 3 and Sniper Elite 4 allow you to do this to any vehicle that you come across. Realism comes into play when considering armored vehicles, most of which have multiple occupants: take out the driver and it can't move, but it will still shoot at you. Take out the main gunner, and the coaxial machine gunner will still be able to shoot you. Taking out the occupants without destroying the vehicle allows you to covertly disable a nuisance: no one will know that the tank is full of dead bodies, and it won't explode to let everyone know you're there.
  • Done in Soldier of Fortune to helicopter pilots. Notably, it's how you're meant to defeat the Final Boss in the second game.
  • In Space Engineers, blasting off enemy cockpits is one the most effective ways to to kill enemy SpaceFighters; only the most hardcore armored fighters have enclosed cockpits, while everything else generally has the cockpit on the very front of the ship, ready to be blown off. Generally less viable against large ships, as players often mount multiple redundant control rooms and have it buried deep within the ship; it's generally more effective to target their reactor rooms or thrusters.
  • Vehicles in TerraTech can be incredibly beefy, but destroying the cab and all the mounted AI modules will turn any tech into a pile of blocks. One of the first things players learn to do is hide their cabs.
  • Time Crisis 3's Stage 1 Area 3 has you riding in an ATV while shooting other enemies also in ATVs. Killing the driver of a vehicle causes the entire vehicle to spin out and crash, killing everyone else on it. It's faster than eliminating individual enemies or shooting the ATV itself, but if you're playing for score, you miss out on points gained from chain-shooting enemies.
  • In War Thunder, hitting the cockpit is a good way to take out enemy planes, especially heavily armored bombers. The US B-17 can lose 3 out of 4 engines and still fly, for starters, but if the pilot takes a bullet it's done for (maybe two if the pilots vitality stat is upgraded high enough).
    • Even more important with the ground forces part. If an ammo rack hit is not available, then aiming for a weak spot to take out the crew (ideally the gunner or driver) is the best course of action. A ground unit is also considered dead if you kill all but one of the crew. This is important; whilst almost all damaged parts can be restored to at least some functionality, dead crew tend to stay dead and it takes a few moments for surviving crew to take over and restore lost functions. The Sturmgeschutz Assault Guns in particular are very vulnerable to this tactic, as most of their crew is lined up on the left side of the vehicle; a round in the right place can immediately kill them all and thus One-Hit Kill the vehicle.
  • Tanks in World of Tanks have a crew that can be killed in battle. If the entire crew is dead, then the tank is effectively out of the fight, even if the tank itself is still in one piece.


    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Some clone pilots fall victim to this throughout Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
    • In "Escape from Kadavo", a Zygerrian pilot shoots his fighter's laser cannons directly at a gunship's pilot, piercing the viewport and the pilot's head and causing the gunship to crash into the crater wall.
    • In "The Unknown", a Separatist raid party ó consisting only of a droid gunship and jetpack-equipped super battle droids ó attacks a Republic medical shuttle carrying Tup (who has had a curious mental breakdown that resulted in him killing a Jedi) back to Kamino and its escort of ARC-170 fighters. The rocket droids eliminate the ARC-170s by climbing onto the nose and shooting the pilots while the gunship deploys some buzz droids to sabotage the shuttle, with the first few ripping off the viewport and spacing the pilots to death so the rest of the party can board the shuttle and steal Tup.

    Real Life 
  • The FAA has actually looked at the potential danger of this trope to airliners, but didn't deem it be that big of a risk. An anti-materiel rifle would be best for the extended range and power it offers, but even rifles built for long-range anti-personnel work would be able to penetrate the cockpit from a distance. However, it would take an astounding amount of aiming skills and luck to pull off. And it's even more unlikely that a sniper would be able to get a follow up shot on the copilot before the plane gained significant altitude.
  • This has gotten more difficult as technology has advanced, but we have yet to come up with a material that is both transparent and as strong as high-grade steel, much less more exotic stuff like depleted-uranium or Chobham armour. Some types of bulletproof glass note  also have an unfortunate tendency to deteriorate over time from exposure to direct sunlight and have to be replaced periodically; if the maintenance people goof the paperwork or replacements don't turn up on time, there's a problem.
    • However, aluminium oxynitride (ALON), an optically transparent ceramic material now commonly used as bulletproof glass, is extremely strong and does not degrade with time. 1.6 inches of ALON is enough to stop a armor piercing .50 BMG round from close range, as compared to traditional glass laminate which requires over 3.7 inches.
  • World War I, being the first major conflict to feature air-to-air conflict, notably had many instances of this. Before someone figured out how to mount a machine gun on a plane, pilots and observers were required to take firearms along with them in the cockpit in case an opportunity to attack an enemy craft presented itself. Generally, the plane's engines had more protection than the cockpit so often enough a plane would be shot up but still flyable but the pilot was dead or wounded. Manfred von Richthofen, THE Red Baron himself, was fatally wounded by an anti-aircraft machine gun but still managed to land his relatively unharmed plane before dying. Some early plane designs also had an unfortunate habit of showering their pilots in boiling hot oil or radiator coolant if the engines were shot up by enemy fire, indirectly leading to this.
  • Tank armour during the first World War was very thin, poor quality steel. Machine gun fire wouldn't penetrate it, but it would create hundreds of red-hot slivers of iron bouncing around inside the crew compartment. A standard German army rifle with the bullet loaded backwards would punch through the armour, and could be lethal to any of the 7-man crew who happened to be in the way.
  • During the Spanish Civil War, partisan snipers learned to shoot down low-flying fighter planes by targeting the cockpit. This was possible due to the much lower cruising and top speeds of aircraft at the time.
  • British Spitfire pilots during World War 2 preferred shooting to destroy the enemy's aircraft without deliberately targeting the cockpit; They would also count a bailout as a "kill" as the aircraft was destroyed, even if the pilot wasn't. They considered this to be more "sporting". Polish and other European refugee Spitfire pilots, on the other hand, had absolutely no qualms about trying to turn the pilots of an enemy aircraft into burger meat with their machine guns, and would continue to fire on descending parachutes with the express intent of killing the pilot. Most of these refugee pilots had witnessed the brutality of the enemy first-hand and many of them had lost friends and family; They really wanted to make their enemy pay for what they'd done, chivalry be damned.
  • During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, there was a confirmed case of a Mujaheddin downing a Hind attack helicopter by killing the pilot with a Martini-Henry rifle left over from the British invasion in the previous century.
  • Generally averted during World War II, as better shielding for the pilot made it more efficient to destroy the plane's vital systems instead. However, the Japanese A6M Zero had an unarmored cockpit (make that an unarmored everything), which did wonders for its maneuverability and made it very successful early in the war, but got many pilots killed when they went up against later American fighter planes that combined heavy armor with similar maneuverability. About the only Zero pilots that survived to the end of the war were those who ordered armor plating added around the cockpit.
    • Owen J. Baggett, an American pilot, managed to shoot down a Zero with only an M1911 pistol while parachuting to the ground by firing at its cockpit.
    • Ace pilot Saburō Sakai was nearly killed by a .30-caliber round to the head, fired from an SBD Dauntless (he'd mistaken them from a distance for F4F Wildcats and tried to jump them from the rear.)
  • Neutron bombs are designed to do this. Depleted uranium tank armor can withstand a tactical nuclear weapon detonated as close as a quarter-mile (400 meters). Depleted uranium will block blast, heat, gamma rays, poison gas, and pathogens. It is, however, worse than useless at shielding the crew from fusion neutrons, which instead of being captured or moderated by the armor, fast fission it, creating MORE radiation. Result: the tank is left intact, but the crew receives a fatal dose of radiation, and ideally at least 5-10 times the fatal dose (radiation poisoning kills slowly if you receive only one fatal dose, leaving the crew able to fight in the interim, but 5-10 fatal doses at once quickly cripple the victim and leads to a swift death). For this reason, Soviet tanks usually have fuel tanks near doors and other sections as well as water layers to trap neutrons. Still doesn't help against gamma radiation though.
  • Visibility from within an armoured vehicle is a lot better than it was fifty years ago, but CCTV systems only go so far, and can also get damaged. Sometimes you just have to stick your head out the hatch to use the Mk 1 eyeball and take your chances.
    • It is also possible for snipers to disable the advanced optics and force the crew to do this. Shooting out thermal sights is a primary role of snipers when going up against tanks.
    • During World War 2, experience showed that tank commanders or gunners who stuck their heads out of an open hatch to see what was going on were much more likely to be killed, either from a sharpshooter or just from getting caught by the blast of anti-tank weapons. On the other hand, the same experience showed that the entire tank crew was more likely to die if nobody stuck their head out to see what possible threats were approaching in a blind spot.
    • In Mailed Fist, an account of tank fighting during WWII, tank commander John Foley recounts his near-miss with a German sniper, who ignored the fact that all of an infantry officer's body was in view, so that he could focus on the challenge of the tank commander who was only showing his head above the cupola. This wasn't necessarily bravado or showboating: a tank commander would have been a more valuable target than the infantry officer he was talking to.
    • Most major armies pre-World War II had anti-tank rifles in their arsenals. The technology was first adopted in 1918 during World War I as a counter to the newly introduced tanks and was fairly effective against the early, light armored, tanks. They were still mildly effective in the early years of World War II but increased armor on later tank models made them obsolete. Most were converted into anti-materiel weapons and used for disabling trucks and shooting through pillboxes.
  • Going with the theme of "disabling the vehicle by killing the crew", some modern antitank weapons are not designed to actually destroy the vehicle or even penetrate the armor, but just send a shockwave through the armor that causes pieces of it to break off and ricochet around inside the vehicle. This is known as "spalling" and tends to cause the tank's crew compartment to resemble a charnel house afterward.
    • Older Than Television: During the pre-World War II years, the Polish Army devised a 7.92x107mm round and the rifle to fire it, for the purpose of fighting armored vehicles from under cover. The very high velocity bullet would flatten itself against armor and the hammer blow would spall one (or more) chunk(s) of hard steel armor to bounce inside and cut the unfortunate crew to pieces. It worked very well against thin, 15-20mm armor of early-war tanks, but against more heavily-armored tanks introduced after 1943, it was all but useless.
    • The Soviet SU-152 self-propelled howitzer became well known for this in World War 2. Mounting an enormous 152mm cannon, a single hit with a high-explosive shell would typically kill a German tank , sometimes blowing the turret clean off! However, against the Elefant tank destroyer, which lacked a turret and was even more heavily armored than a Tiger, a single hit tended to kill the crew but leave the vehicle still operational, which the Soviets discovered when they caught German troops recovering "destroyed" Elefants and putting new crews into them. Soviet doctrine for using SU-152s against Elefants was promptly changed to "shoot it until the armor cracks open."
    • Officially these type of weapons are called HESH rounds, which stands for High Explosive Squash Head, and are designed not to pierce armor, but to create a massive blast wave that blows chunks of shrapnel from the inside of the tank's armor and onto the crew and any ammo or fuel in the way.


Video Example(s):


Take out the driver

Joel provides sniper cover for Ellie, Henry and Sam as they're being chased by a modified truck with a bulldozer blade. Joel takes out the driver after making a few misses.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / SnipingTheCockpit

Media sources: