In the mid-1960’s General Electric designed and produced the GE Minigun. It was derivative of larger types the company produced for fighter aircraft. The Minigun saw service throughout the Vietnam War and for some years after. Those who knew the weapon knew how devastating it was. Miniguns quickly spread through the services. The Army used them on UH1 Hueys, AH-6s, AH-1 Cobras, and even put Miniguns in trucks to protect convoys. The Navy used Miniguns on river patrol boats and ships. The Air Force had Miniguns in the nose of the A-37 Dragonfly jets and even mounted three side firing Minis on AC-47 transports called ‘Puff’. However, when the war ended, production ceased. The M134’C’, as it was known at that time, soldiered on for decades, living off of the spare parts inventory that had built up during the last war. Eventually, the spares began to run out. New sources of parts were sought. These contracts went mainly to low bidders who, lacking an understanding of how the gun actually operated, produced parts of questionable quality. By the 1980’s the spares supply had either been used up or tainted with bad parts. Many units simply chose to turn in their weapons for other less temperamental and, unfortunately, less effective guns.
AN UNLIKELY BEGINNING
The Dillon M134D was the result of an effort to perfect the single most effective, most devastating machine gun ever created. However, it did not begin with that intent. Dillon Aero is an off-shoot of parent company Dillon Precision, and its origins as well as that of the modern M134D can be traced back to one long, cold night on a dry lake bed in Northern Arizona. For more than 25 years, Dillon Precision has produced the world’s finest small arms ammunition reloading equipment. In the early 90’s DP acquired a handful of surplus GE GAU-2 Miniguns for use in the movie industry. Miniguns had appeared in a number of films such as Predator and Terminator and were a hot item in the movie business. Unfortunately, the guns could never be made to function reliably. On one particular film shoot, Dillon Precision had been contracted to provide Miniguns for the British Television Top Gear being filmed in Arizona.
Unfortunately, the guns were proving temperamental. Failure after failure threatened the entire shooting schedule. Gun crews worked straight through the last night to coax the weapons into firing a few hundred rounds without jamming. When the sun rose, the exhausted gun crew loaded the weapons. With cameras rolling and fingers crossed, they pulled the trigger. The guns roared to life just long enough to get the shot, and then jammed again.
By the time the film shoot had finished, frustration over Miniguns poor performance had turned to disgust. The designers at Dillon decided that they were either going to fix the weapon or shelve it permanently.
By coincidence, this was exactly the same dilemma faced the US Army’s Special Operations Forces. Task Force 160, the Army’s special aviation unit, was by then one of the last units to operate the Minigun. At one time there had been thousands of M134s in service. By 1991 that number had dwindled due to a severe lack of quality spares. Despite this, TF160 was determined to use the weapon for as long as possible. They knew just how effective a weapon the M134 was. However, the time when the guns would become unsupportable was fast approaching and TF160 was preparing to retire the Minigun for good.
Back at Dillon, careful analysis had uncovered a number of the Minigun’s short comings. Most of these centered around the MAU-56 delinker/feeder. The Minigun is designed to shoot linked ammunition. The delinker/feeder’s function is to strip cartridges from the links, then feed the cartridges to the guns bolts. At 3000 shots per minute the delinker/feeder must perform this operation 50 times every second. Timing is critical. Should something cause the timing of the ammunition entering the MAU-56 to be altered then an immediate jamming of the gun would be the result.
Unfortunately, the MAU-56 design was prone to jams and breakages resulting from jams. To clear a jam could require up to thirty minutes. Worse, if the MAU-56 broke, the weapon was out of action. For several years our work focused on designing a new Feeder/Delinker to replace our MAU-56. The unit Dillon created became known as the Dillon DAFD-2000 Feeder/Delinker. It is very strong, jam resistant design which emphasized ease of jam clearance and reliability. Jams that once took 30 minutes to clear now require only 30 seconds. Moreover, the new design was nearly impossible to break.
About this time members from Task Force 160th heard about the work that a small company named Dillon had done to improve the Minigun. One day, a man who only used his first name, called and asked if the company would like to demonstrate their product to certain ‘special’ customers.
Dillon was invited out to the TF160th Compound in Kentucky to demonstrate the DAFD-2001. The Dillon Delinker was put through its paces time and again. After firing more than 50,000 rounds without a single stoppage the decision was made. The old MAU-56s were to be immediately replaced with the DAFD-2001 Feeder/Delinker.
The work the company had done with the Minigun Feeder/Delinker turned out to be exactly what TF160 needed. With that first, chance contract Dillon Aero was born. What had started a number of years before as an attempt to repair and improve a broken gun had turned into full time business. This is not something they had planned. They were simply trying to get our guns to work.
After the DAFD-2001 was completed, Dillon designers turned their attention to other areas of the weapon which need improving. Gun breach bolts, gun control units, clutch, gun mount, barrels, top cover and safing sector all were redesigned and eventually adopted by the Army. By this time, the new Feeder/Delinkers had been introduced into the Marine Corp, Air Force, and Navy. The rest of Dillon’s products followed the same path, entering into service with all the US Armed Forces in the form of upgrade kits for old GE Miniguns. The Minigun had come back from the brink of oblivion.
By 2002, Dillon Aero had redesigned every component of the Minigun and, not long after that, they introduced the first all new production Dillon M134. The complete Dillon Minigun was accepted by the US Army and re-designated M134 “D”, replacing the older “C” model in the inventory.
THE MINIGUN HAD RETURNED
In 2004, Dillon followed up with the development of the M134D-T. This was the lightweight variant of the Minigun with much of the weight reduction being achieved by replacing steel components with titanium.
In the end, the all titanium Minigun had a fairly short life. While most of the improvements where very successful, the titanium housing suffered from a higher than normal wear rate which reduced its life to 500,000 rounds.
However, all was not lost. By 2005, the lightweight components perfected in the M134D-T where introduced into the steel M134D to create the M134D-H.
As a result of the phenomenal success of this weapon family, Dillon Aero has been awarded over 375 contracts by the US government, in addition to numerous other key projects.