We tried to steal a tank with a helicopter in GTA Online, and it was embarrassing

One of the VIP missions in GTA Online's Executives and Other Criminals expansion tasks you with stealing a tank from Fort Zancudo, the game's high-security military base. After numerous failed attempts where the tank got blown up by police helicopters or someone's internet stopped working, we were convinced we had an inventive solution that made the most of Rockstar's sandbox tools. Here's what happened. 

Samuel: Here's what goes down in the 'Hostile Takeover' mission: once you're in Fort Zancudo, you've got to steal the tank, which is inside one of the hangars inside this sprawling military base. Soldiers open fire on you from everywhere, with shotguns and machine guns. If you manage to get to the hangar where the tank's stored, there are more guards at vantage points who open fire on you. 

Phil: Our previous attempts have gone…OK? We can shoot our way to the tank. We can steal the tank. We can even drive the tank out of the base. What we haven't yet been able to do is drive the tank from the base to the drop-off point. The police response is so fierce that the tank always explodes, usually on a bridge somewhere. I have a plan, though. On a trip to Blaine County's airfield, I noticed a Cargobob had spawned. It's a transport helicopter with a hook that lets you pick up and airlift vehicles. Vehicles like a tank, maybe? Let's find out.

Samuel: Rather than look up whether this is possible or not, we decide it's best to try it, just because the moment we lift a tank into the air could potentially be hilarious and rewarding.

Phil: I'm piloting the Cargobob, Samuel is our man on the ground. We also have additional support from PCG contributor Tom Hatfield. He owns a Buzzard armed with homing missiles, and so will be providing air support.

Samuel: Parachuting into the base from Tom's chopper isn't getting me very far, because the soldiers are ready for action before I've even landed. Plus, because I'm only half-decent at GTA, it's tough to land without braining myself on the side of the hangar. That's making the approach to the base rather hard, so we figure out a better strategy. Tom also owns an armoured car. How about we lift this car in using the cargobob, drop the vehicle off the hook, and I'll drive into the hangar unscathed?

Phil: I am very much into this plan. One thing: picking up cars with the Cargobob is trickier than I thought. Anything heavy weighs the chopper down. 

Samuel: Starting again, Tom spawns the car in the airport, and I hop in. The Cargobob hooks on, and Phil carries me over the city. I do seem to be quite close to the ground while dangling from the helicopter, and come very close to smashing into Vinewood Hills at one point. But you've got this, right Phil? 

Phil: Yup, we're good. Do not think too hard about those buildings that you're swinging perilously close to, Sam. Eventually I do get the hang of things, but it's slow going—and this car is definitely lighter than a tank.

Samuel: Eventually we arrive at Zancudo, and Phil drops me off from a great height. The car slams down and I rev towards the hangar, knocking down a soldier who means only to serve his country on the way, and arrive inside without losing any health. Since the car is bulletproof, I can kill all the guards with my SMG without even leaving the driver's seat. This is working beautifully. With the hangar cleared, I climb into the tank and take it. I make a break for the runway, where Phil's going to pick me up.

Phil: It's my time to shine! Just…just hang on a second while I get this hook positioned. No, that hasn't done it. Er...? This is a lot of grinding on your roof for very little reward. I don't think the Cargobob can lift a tank. Oh well, time for Plan B. We do have a Plan B, yeah?

Samuel: This is...embarrassing. What an absolute non-event. I've been reversing the tank back-and-forth for ages trying to get Phil's damned hook onto it, while under heavy gunfire from gathering soldiers. We later learn the Cargobob was nerfed some time ago, and that this strategy isn't viable. Oh well! Guess I'll just have to drive this thing out the front entrance and take the freeway. It'll be crucial that the other two guys keep the helicopter fire off of me.

Phil: My Cargobob is now useless, but, as CEO of a corporation, Tom is handing out helicopters like they're redundancy packages. He spawns one on a nearby beach, and, as Sam shoots his way out of the army base, I awkwardly land my 'Bob, and climb into a lighter, faster, gun-ier chopper. There's now two of us providing air support in Buzzards, which should help with the police helicopters that have thwarted our previous attempts.

Samuel: I take as many police cars out from the ground as I can with the turret, but the tricky part is the bridge along the escape route, which is always barricaded by a ton of law enforcement. Phil and Tom have done a solid job of keeping the choppers off of me, and Tom heroically lands a rocket on one of the barricades as I leave the tunnel, clearing the way. At this point, I'm nearly at the drop-off, and the tank's still in good condition.

Phil: I shoot a few helicopters down, but the amount of police fire is overwhelming. I explode in a hail of gunfire and rockets, and respawn under a bridge. I run back to the road, but stealing a car is difficult when there are so many cops on the ground. I use my rocket launcher to bring down any stray helicopters between respawns, but otherwise Sam's on his own.

Samuel: It's all down to me, but the police presence has calmed down as I reach the objective marker. By this point in the mission, the tank is usually on fire, or making a sound to indicate it's going to explode. This time, everything's intact thanks to the guys keeping those choppers off of me. I reach the objective marker. It's done!

Phil: Hey, we did it. I celebrate with the lads over Skype as yet another policeman shoots me in the head.

Samuel: As the mission ends, the police back off from me immediately, despite the tank being parked right in front of them. Classic. This mission took us about six attempts, and pays out no more money than any other grind-y mission in GTA Online (something like $20,000), but damn, raiding Zancudo is still the most fun thing you can do in GTA. I definitely want to try this mission again, maybe with Tom or Phil in the tank, and me trying to ward the choppers away with a Hydra jet (which is harder than using the helicopters, since the AA guns in Zancudo make it hard to steal a plane). 

That was easy for the first time, because the strategy was sound and the game let us use the tools effectively, even if we sadly weren't able to use the Cargobob's hook. It was a classic GTA set piece. 

When I excitedly explain what we did to my girlfriend later—that we tried to steal a tank with a helicopter, and when we couldn't, we instead lifted an armoured car into the military base to get the job done—her response was withering. "I don't want to buy into gender stereotypes, but that's such a boy thing to do." A fair point.

Samuel Roberts
Former PC Gamer EIC Samuel has been writing about games since he was 18. He's a generalist, because life is surely about playing as many games as possible before you're put in the cold ground.