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The M61 Vulcan is a hydraulically or pneumatically driven, six-barreled, air-cooled, electrically fired Gatling-style rotary cannon which fires 20 mm rounds at an extremely high rate. The M61 and its derivatives have been the principal cannon armament of United States military fixed-wing aircraft for fifty years. The M61 was originally produced by General Electric, and after several mergers and acquisitions is currently produced by General Dynamics.
The Gatling gun is one of the best known early rapid-fire weapons and a forerunner of the modern machine gun. It is known for its use by the Union forces during the American Civil War in the 1860s, which was the first time it was employed in combat. Later it was used in the assault on San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War.
The Gatling gun's operation centered on a cyclic multi-barrel design which facilitated cooling and synchronized the firing/reloading sequence. Each barrel fired a single shot when it reached a certain point in the cycle, after which it ejected the spent cartridge, loaded a new round, and in the process, cooled down somewhat. This configuration allowed higher rates of fire to be achieved without the barrel overheating.