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The Minigun is a 7.62 mm, multi-barrel machine gun with a high rate of fire (up to 6,000 rounds per minute), employing Gatling-style rotating barrels with an external power source. In popular culture, the term "minigun" has come to refer to any externally-powered Gatling gun of rifle caliber, though the term is sometimes used to refer to guns of similar rates of fire and configuration, regardless of power source and caliber. Specifically, minigun refers to a single weapon, originally produced by General Electric. The "mini" of the name is in comparison to designs that use a similar firing mechanism but larger shells, such as General Electric's earlier 20 mm M61 Vulcan. The basic weapon is a 6-barrel, air-cooled, and electrically driven machine gun. The electric drive rotates the weapon within its housing, with a rotating firing pin assembly and rotary chamber. The minigun's multibarrel design helps prevent overheating, but also serves other functions. Multiple barrels allow for a greater capacity for a high firing rate, since the serial process of firing/extraction/loading is taking place in all barrels simultaneously. Thus, as one barrel fires, two others are in different stages of shell extraction and another three are being loaded. The minigun is composed of multiple closed-bolt rifle barrels arranged in a circular housing. The barrels are rotated by an external power source: usually electric, pneumatic, or hydraulic. Other rotating-barrel cannons are powered by the gas pressure or recoil energy of fired cartridges. A gas-operated variant, designated the XM133, was also developed, but was not put into production. Various iterations of the minigun have also been used in a number of armament subsystems for helicopters, with most of these subsystems being created by the United States. The first systems utilized the weapon in a forward firing role, for a variety of helicopters, some of the most prominent examples being the M21 armament subsystem for the UH-1 Iroquois and the M27 for the OH-6 Cayuse. It also formed the primary turret mounted armament for a number of members of the AH-1 Cobra family. The weapon was also used as a pintle-mounted door gun on a wide variety of transport helicopters, a role it continues to serve in today. [READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE]
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