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War Stories

Nighthawk Minigun - 1969

Jim Rodgers - see additional Book article

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I’ve been following the stories on the Nighthawk program as I was involved in the initial development of the Minigun system used. My tour in country ended in May of 69. I was the Armament NCO until my promotion and reassignment to the maintenance administration. My duties there involved maintaining the office records of every ship in D Troop. That occurred sometime in March of 69.

I don’t recall who formed the team to develop the minigun mounting and operation systems but Captain Bill Blair was probably involved since I worked for him. Anyway, I was asked, before my promotion, to assist in the development and mounting of this gun. We drew up the initial cradle, including a stop to keep from shortening the rotor blades while in flight, two handles to control it (more about that control shortly), a plunger switch to run the minigun, the gun control system, and the floor mount. I believe the cradle was fabricated by the 725th Maintenance Battalion next door.

Since the rate of fire needed to be slowed down for control, we used a resistor and fire system from the OH-6A. This resistor was mounted inside the aircraft and away from any crew member or critical parts due to the extreme heat during firing. We decided to hang this outside and below the aircraft for safety. Turned out to be a good choice. We didn’t want to burn a hole in the aircraft.

This slowed the rate of fire to probably 1000 to 1200 rounds a minute. The plunger switch was mounted so the gunner could start and stop it with his thumb. After everything was put together, we dry fired it to be sure it all worked. Good decision to let the resistor hang below the aircraft. The flow of air around and through it helped to cool it but it still got awfully hot. As I recall, the resistor was eight to ten inches long and probably two or three inched around. The control box was mounted to the floor.

Everything seemed to work, no breakers popped, it was time for a live fire test. One of the guys volunteered to fire it. I don’t recall his name but he was a healthy sized guy. We loaded everything up and flew to AO ERP. When the time came to start this beast up. I held my breath hoping this thing would hold together. I told the gunner to fire just a short burst. I wanted to check the welds and how everything handled the pressure. He braced himself and pressed the switch. Man, what a beast we had! This thing spewed hell fire and carnage! The gunner must have been having fun because he forgot about what I said and didn’t start with just a short burst.

However, I looked at him and he was straining to hold the thing down. This thing was climbing and he couldn’t hold it even though he was using every muscle in his body, arms and legs. A vision of the stop breaking off and the rotors blades loosing some two or three feet off their total length went through my head. He finally cut it off. The stop held, all welds seemed to be intact but we had to modify where the gun mounted into the cradle to get it more balanced. Shortly after, I was moved into the maintenance office and the project proceeded without me.

I’ve looked at the pictures in the articles and it appears that several iterations of cradles were developed. Obviously the balance issue was resolved and we had a winner. That’s what I recall about the development of the gun system. Just wish I had taken pictures of the first cradle. I’m sure we did everything wrong in the design but when you’re young, you take chances.

 

Article from Book:

LOHminigun Helicopter Gunships: Deadly Combat Weapon Systems
By Wayne Mutza

We assume that this was not a Nighthawk development but does show that the Centaurs were not the only ones looking into upgrading our Door Gunners to a minigun as early as 1969.

This caption goes with the photo on the right:

"Getting a feel for a makeshift M134 mini gun is LTC Kenneth Burton, Cdr of 25th Avn Bn, 25th Inf Div in 1968 and 1969. …The mini gun gave Loach crewmen tremendous firepower... D Troop, 3/4 Cav, which was near the 25th at Cu Chi used a similar Loach mini gun arrangement, suggesting that the units worked together to develop the weapon." (George Reese, Jr.)