by: Mario Matijasic [ ]
US forces in the Vietnam war used helicopters as one of the primary means of transporting soldiers and equipment. The helicopters were thin-skinned and extremely vulnerable to small arms fire and RPG attacks when they slowed down for a landing procedure. Although helicopters used single-barreled machine guns to repel attackers from the dense jungle, a more powerful weapon was needed.
Following the successful fielding of 20mm M61 Vulcan automatic gun, the development of a rifle-caliber, externally powered six-barreled Gatling type machine gun was commenced by the General Electric in 1960s. The resulting 7.62mm chambered weapon, designated M134 and known popularly as the "Minigun", was mounted on AC-47 Gunship aircraft and soon proved its value. GE commenced mass production of the M134 system and by 1971 more than 10.000 Miniguns were produced and delivered to US Armed Forces. Most were used in airborne applications, installed aboard aircrafts and helicopters, but also on riverine crafts used by Special Forces in Vietnam. Due to its sustained-fire capability and high rate of fire (up to 4.000 rounds per minute), the Minigun provided excellent suppressive and area denial capabilities.
In recent times, production of the 7.62mm Minigun was resumed by Dillon Aero, which is manufacturing the improved version of the basic design system, known as M134D. It has many upgrades, resulting in decreased weight of the system, improved reliability and better handling and maintenance. The M134D is used on board of many military helicopters, as well as on HMMWV trucks and naval crafts.
Live Resin released a big number of different M134D Minigun variants in 1/35 scale. This review covers the M134D in its state-of-the-art configuration found almost exclusively on Special Forces vehicles: M134D Minigun with M89A Surefire HellFighter Mount Assembly on heavy pedestal and S.A.G. (Save-A-Gunner) armour shield (window variant) with late barrel clamp and 3000 Round Vehicle Magazine with Booster Assembly and SLAB battery (LRE-35066).
The set is packed in a cardboard box featuring CAD boxart images; the one on the front shows the schematic diagram of all the kit parts and lists accessory sets that can be used with the M134D Minigun (LRE-35007, LRE-35008, LRE-35028, LRE-35091, LRE-35105, LRE-35106, LRE-35107 and LRE-35108), while the one on the back shows different views of the specific Minigun setup which can be built using the parts provided in this particular set.
The box contains a zip-lock bag with resin parts and an instruction sheet. The kit consists of 26 resin parts; the smaller pieces are organized on large casting blocks, while the bigger pieces are cast separately. The armor shield window is cast in clear resin. All the resin parts are molded perfectly and I did not find any defects on the pieces whatsoever... Live Resin obviously invests a lot of time and energy in a quality control process, as vast majority of their kits I reviewed feature absolutely flawless cast. As with all Live Resin sets, the parts display impressively sharp details superbly rendered in 1/35 scale.
The M134D is an extremely complex weapon and Live Resin had to go to great lengths to replicate the Minigun realistically in scale and, in the same time, keep the kit assembly relatively straightforward. The Minigun is a six-barrel, air-cooled, electrically driven rotary machine gun. It's multi-barrel design helps to prevent overheating, but also allows for a greater capacity for a high firing rate, since the serial process of firing/extraction/loading takes place in all barrels simultaneously (as one barrel fires, two others are in different stages of shell extraction and another three are being loaded). While the Minigun is fed from linked ammunition, it requires a delinking feeder to strip the links as the rounds are introduced to the chambers. I took some time to study the M134D design and its components, browsing through Dillon Aero website. The more I was getting into details of the weapon system, the more I was impressed with the way Live Resin transferred this beast to 1/35 scale. All the tiniest details are beautifully rendered and I found an excellent match to the real thing.
The basic M134D design involves gun housing with feeder/delinker assembly and large exhaust port for ejecting spent brass after firing, gun drive motor, gun control unit and spade grips. The gun control unit (GCU) is a simple, yet highly robust system, which controls all of the weapon functions. The GCU is integral part of the gun, housed between the spade grips. As for the barrel group, these are aligned with barrel clamp/flash suppressor assembly. A special addition to this particular M134D setup is definitely the Surefire M89A, which comes with a HellFighter T-rail and two-side mounted Picatinny accessory rails for attachment of high intensity discharge searchlight beneath the Minigun barrels.
The M134D in this set is depicted on a heavy pedestal with vertical arm and with Save-A-Gunner (SAG) armor shield. SAG armor shield is constructed by USGN Inc. using an experimental G-LAM lightweight nanofiber material which is over 100 times stronger than steel and offers protection from up to 12.7mm AP ammunition. The complex shape of SAG shield is represented really well in this 1/35 scale set and the shield features two distinct layers of G-LAM material and very sharp bolt details. This particular SAG shield variant also features a bullet-proof window which is cast in clear resin. The thickness of the clear resin part depicts bullet-proof glass really well. The window frame is extremely thin so I suggest caution when cleaning the window opening.
As for the ammo feed system, this set includes 3000 Round Vehicle Magazine with Booster Assembly. The Booster Assembly is a device which provides the extra push necessary for moving ammunition over longer distances. It mounts directly on top of the magazine lid and powers the ammo before it enters the feed chute. The flexible 7.62mm ammo feed chute optimizes the flow of ammunition to the weapon. It is supplied as 5 individual resin pieces: one slightly bent and the others completely straight. The bent chute piece could be used for the ammo going to the Minigun receiver, while the other pieces can be twisted and bent using hot water. Caution and a lot of patience is necessary to get optimal results. The Sealed Lead-Acid Battery (SLAB) provides an external power source to the M134D, and is also included in the set.
I've been impressed with all the complex weapon system kits Live Resin produced so far, and I have to admit I expected nothing less from their M134D Minigun set. Live Resin designs all their models digitally, using sophisticated computer software and real weapon blueprints. High resolution rapid prototyping technology is utilized to print the models, which are actually perfectly accurate miniature copies of the real weapon systems. A big plus to all Live Resin models is very intelligent engineering of their kits which enables pretty much straightforward assembly.
Read the instructions, identify the pieces in the set, and check the reference pictures... Building this kit is not as hard as it may seem at first. The instructions are clear and easy to follow, showing step-by-step assembly procedure.
I didn't have any problems building the model whatsoever. As with all Live Resin sets, the pieces are intelligently designed and most of them feature protrusions / indentations which help to align the parts correctly. The fit is really good and I didn't have to use any putty throughout the assembly process. I annotated the parts on their resin carrier blocks and I'm also showing photos of all major subassemblies noting the position of each part as well. The main weapon assembly is shown on photos 1-4, the weapon mount with the SAG shield on photos 5-6, and the 3000 round magazine on photos 7-8. Fully assembled M134D is shown on rest of the photos.
Please note two slightly different barrels are included in the set. I used the one cast without the flash suppressor, adding the suppressor separately for more realistic depiction of the weapon. Also, I did not attach any of the feed chute pieces to the weapon, instead opting to add these after securing the Minigun to the vehicle. Some modelers would probably want to go the extra mile and add electrical cables to the weapon system. The instructions provide a wiring diagram, however the wire is not included in the kit.
This M134D set is one of the best Live Resin sets I have reviewed so far. Although it might seem complex for novice modelers, the design of the weapon system is very intelligent and the pieces fit perfectly. The instruction sheet is very clear and easy to follow, and the model builds into an impressive 1/35 scale replica of M134D Minigun. With wonderfully rendered mount and SAG shield, this 6-barreled beast is a must for anyone building US Special Ops vehicles.