The Minigun was originally designed by General Electric (you will never look at your microwave the same again will you?) in 1962 and has been in continuous use since then. M134 is all about volume of fire, as it spews streams of 7.62X51 ammo at up to 6,000 rounds per minute.
At night, the minigun's buzz-saw wraith, paired with tracers, looks more like something out of Star Wars than out of Rambo.
Dillon Aerospace is one of a handful of manufacturers that have built Miniguns under license over the decades, but they are the guys that really saved the design from obscurity and created their own cottage industry furnishing them to a very demanding primary customer, the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM).
Within SOCOM, Dillon Aero's main customers are most notably the world's premier special operations helicopter unit, the 160th SOAR, otherwise known as the Night Stalkers, and the Special Warfare Combat-Craft Crewman (SWCCs) that use their tricked out boats to deliver and extract US Navy SEALs from combat zones. Dillon Aero's work with 'unconventional' units has resulted in some 'unique' applications:
The story of Dillon Aero's unique relationship with SOCOM and how they saved the minigun from extinction is well described in this Wikipedia entry:
The U.S. government had procured some 10,000 miniguns during the Vietnam War. By 1975, production of spare parts had ceased with the Army in possession of a large inventory. By 1985, there were few spares left in the inventory. Units that received miniguns could not maintain them, so by the 1990s only Task Force 160 (later named the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) or 160th SOAR) and some Navy Special Boat Units kept them in regular use. Around 1995, the 160th SOAR began acquiring spare miniguns. Industry had a difficult time reproducing parts according to the original blueprints, so models that were being procured were mechanically unreliable and mixed with the inventory of working spares. This resulted in using a mixed batch of working and unreliable weapons. This fact was unknown to the 160th SOAR, and the use of miniguns that would not work shook the unit's confidence in the system. The 160th was on the verge of dropping the Minigun from its inventory entirely, which would essentially have ended its service life in the U.S. military.
Around 1990, Dillon Aero acquired a large number of miniguns and spares from "a foreign user". The guns kept failing to shoot continuously, revealing that they were actually worn-out weapons. The company decided to fix the problems encountered, rather than simply putting the guns into storage. Fixing failure problems ended up improving the minigun's overall design. Dillon's efforts to improve the minigun reached the 160th SOAR, and Dillon was invited to Fort Campbell, Kentucky to demonstrate its products. A delinker, used to separate cartridges from ammunition belts and feed them into the gun housing; and other parts; were tested on Campbell's ranges. The 160th SOAR liked the delinker's performance and began ordering them by 1997. This prompted Dillon to improve other design aspects, including the bolt, housing and barrel. Between 1997 and 2001, Dillon Aero was producing 25-30 products a year. In 2001, it was working on a new bolt design that increased performance and service life. By 2002, virtually every component of the minigun had been improved, so Dillon began producing entire weapons with its improved components. The guns were purchased quickly by the 160th SOAR as its standardized weapon system. The gun then went through the Army's formal procurement system approval process and in 2003 the Dillon Aero minigun was certified and designated M134D.
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com