Slide background


U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Parrish Hall II, a native of Michigan and a UH-1Y Venom crew chief with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron (HMLA) 167, fires a GAU-17A minigun during a flight over the coast of North Carolina, March 26, 2024. HMLA-167 conducted precision-guided munitions delivery to familiarize designated pilots and ordnance personnel with proper procedures for firing and handling multiple ordnance types. The live-fire training allowed HMLA-167 to enhance integration with the joint force while training in aviation operations in maritime-surface warfare. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Orlanys Diaz Figueroa)

Skies Above North Carolina. (March 29, 2024): Vietnam veterans remember the courageous door gunners who protected them during numerous combat insertions. Manning the veritable M60 machine gun, door gunners “sprayed the trees” to clear enemy troops from the landing zone. Today, the door gunner’s job remains the same, but the firepower sure has changed. In this photo by Lance Corporal Orlanys Diaz, Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Parrish Hall II, a UH-1Y Venom crew chief with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 67, fires a GAU-17A minigun, the latest and most powerful light aircraft weapon.

In Vietnam, door gunners were hamstrung by the M60s rate of fire of only six hundred rounds per minute. These and other light machine guns became obsolete with the advent of jet aircraft and the need for a weapon with increased range, rate of fire, and projectile lethality.

Enter General Electric and its “Vulcan” GAU-17A, a six barrel electrically operated gatling gun that can be mounted on vehicles, helicopters, and boats. It has an incredible rate of fire up six thousand rounds per minute. The “Gatling” design is based on the multi-barreled rotary weapon invented by Richard J. Gatling in the 1880s. Instead of a hand crank, today’s “miniguns” use electric motors to power the barrels and the weapon is equipped with a ""high"" (4,000 rpm) and "low" (2,000 rpm) rate of fire selector switch. They are typically mounted in the doors/windows on helicopters for self-defense in landing zones.

The GAU-17 is currently in service on the UH-1N, H-3, and H-60 helicopters as well as a number of American Special Operations aircraft, helicopters, and boats.