A brief history of the minigun (VIDEO)

The minigun has a cult following amongst gun enthusiasts. If you’ve ever seen one up close in action, you probably know why. They breathe fire, devour ammo and create a trademark brrrp sound that is truly awe-inspiring.

There are only a few places to see one in action, such as the twice-annual machine gun shoot at the Knob Creek gun range in West Point, Kentucky.

While the U.S. military has upwards of 10,000 units in operation, civilians own only a few dozen.

Owning one is not unlike owning a machine gun. If you go through the process, you can get your hands on one for around $200,000. Just make sure that you have the money to operate and maintain it.

Original miniguns had a lifespan of only 40,000 rounds. Today’s models have been greatly improved to 500,000 rounds. Although they can fire up to 6,000 rounds per minute, most operate at a 4,000 rpm rate of fire.

The idea of a multi-barrel rotary gun dates back to 1861 and the outset of the Civil War. An inventor from North Carolina named Richard Jordan Gatling designed a six-barrel gun that could fire 200 rounds per minute.

His original intent for the gun was actually somewhat humanitarian — to reduce the size of armies and thus reduce the number of deaths by combat and disease. Despite its great potential, Gatling’s gun saw very little action during the war for the Union Forces, partly because Gatling was accused of being a copperhead.

The Gatling Gun Company was sold to Colt in 1870, with Gatling remaining on board as president until it was fully absorbed by Colt in 1897. In 1893, he installed an electric motor on his gun allowing it to fire up to 3,000 rounds per minute. The Gatling Gun saw action in countless wars and battles all over the planet up until 1911 when it was declared obsolete by the United States Army.

For the next 35 years, ideas for multiple rotating barrel guns went unpursued as light automatic machine guns gained in popularity. During WWI and WWII, Germany and England experimented with multi-barrel cannons, but nothing that ever went into production.

It wasn’t until 1946 when the General Electric Company was awarded a U.S. military defense contract to develop an aircraft gun with a high rate of fire. The result was a large, six-barrel, electrically-driven 20mm cannon that fired up to 6,600 rounds per minute. It was named the M61 Vulcan. It has since become an iconic weapon that is still in use today, now manufactured by General Dynamics.

But it wasn’t until 1962 that the “minigun” was truly born. It was the result of another request by the US military for a weapon that could provide suppressive firepower to protect troops landing by helicopter in Vietnam. Again, GE was awarded the contract and they essentially shrunk the M61 Vulcan to fire the 7.62mm round. The M134 was born, and it was dubbed the “minigun.”

The M134 has seen action in countless wars right up until today. In recent years, production of miniguns was resumed by the Dillon Aero company, who improved the design, reduced the weight and improved reliability. The guns are now known as M134Ds.

Lastly, in late 2016, Empty Shell LLC debuted it’s XM556 Microgun. It fires the 5.56mm round and weighs less than 100 pounds with a 1,000-round backpack allowing it to be fired by an individual. It is available to military and law enforcement.