In modern usage the term "gunship" refers to fixed-wing aircraft having laterally-mounted heavy armaments (i.e. firing to the side) to attack ground or sea targets. These gunships are configured to circle the target instead of performing strafing runs. Such aircraft have their armament on one side harmonized to fire at the apex of an imaginary cone formed by the aircraft and the ground when performing a pylon turn (banking turn). The term "gunship" originated in the mid-19th century as a synonym for gunboat and also referred to the heavily armed ironclad steamships used during the American Civil War.
The term helicopter gunship is commonly used to describe armed helicopters.