Gunsite was founded in 1976 by WW II and Korean War veteran Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper. Cooper’s vision was that the training facility in Paulden, Arizona would be the perfect place to teach his Modern Technique of the Pistol, which he had developed during his “leatherslap” matches in Big Bear, California. Mike Dillon got wind of this development and decided to load up the truck and drive to Paulden to see just what Colonel Cooper had going on up there. Mike took his son Steve, his friend, and photographer, Nyle Leatham and Nyle’s son Rob along for the ride. Rob Leatham, quoted here from the September 2010 edition of Handguns magazine had this to say about the trip;
“My dad was a photojournalist for the Arizona Republic. Mike Dillon and my dad were buddies. We went up to Gunsite to do a story on this guy who was starting this shooting thing up there. We met Jeff Cooper and went out and shot on the range and that item right there that day probably made me more enthusiastic about shooting than anything I’d ever done. It was the first time I’d ever shot in front of anyone other than family, and I loved it–the showmanship and the desire to compete came out there.”
Once again something that Mike had taken on as one thing morphed into a lot more. Meeting Jeff Cooper, going to Gunsite, these things inspired a young man and got him more interested in shooting. We all pretty much know what happened after that. Mike didn’t let it go at that either. His sponsorship of Rob Leatham helped to lay the foundation for an outstanding career. That “shooting thing” that Jeff Cooper started that year didn’t do too bad either.
We don’t have a video of that meeting, or the fun that they had shooting Mike Dillon’s Thompson machine gun, but we do have this classic photo taken by none other than Rob’s father Nyle Leatham.
Long before Mike Dillon’s departure the men and women of Rio Salado Sportsman’s Club had begun planning an annual event that draws competitors from around the country. The 14th annual Western States Single Stack Championship, which is preceded by the Western States Revolver Championship, was to be held later that same week. As usual Dillon Precision was a sponsor. Mike, and later his son Steve, had always been supportive of the shooting sports and had been in as a sponsor of the Western States match for many years. Team Dillon was spread out over 2 squads but they weren’t the only ones sporting Dillon t-shirts that weekend. Super squad member Rob Leatham gave a very moving speech in memory of Mike during the awards ceremony. We won’t cover the entire speech but we do have something we’ll post tomorrow that covers one story that Rob told about himself and Mike taking a trip up north. For now we hope you enjoy this photo gallery of Team Dillon and quite a few others wearing Dillon Blue, and sometimes black, during the match to honor Mike Dillon.
Prior to the beginning of Dillon Precision, Mike Dillon was already stacking up achievements and accolades. One aspect of his career that Mike had been especially proud of was the writing that he did for Air Progress magazine. Air Progress began publication in 1937 and continued on for 60 years before ceasing publication in 1997. During its run Air Progress was known for publishing a high quality magazine with lots of photos, scale views, cutaway drawings, and technical data of interest to pilots. Mike Dillon began writing for Air Progress in the late 60’s and we are fortunate that he saved copies of his work. We will be presenting several of the articles over the next few weeks.
This week we have “So You’d Like To Fly A Fighter Plane” which was also titled “Death In A Beautiful Package.” In the article Mike makes a statement about flying War Birds that applies equally well to firearms, reloading and a host of other fields;
“Show these fighters the respect they deserve and they will carry you into a world of flying pleasure you’ll never be able to forget… and which you’ll probably find hard to describe!”
We hope you enjoy the article. If you prefer to access the pdf file directly just click here.
Yesterday we posted an article documenting Mike Dillon’s “other” company, Dillon Aero. It only makes sense to continue that conversation by discussing Mike’s impact on the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, or SOAR, which operates out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The 160th fills the need for expert helicopter support in extreme situations and on short notice. This Wikipedia page provides a good history of the 160th as does this official page from the United States Army Special Operations Command. The selection criteria for the 160th is strict with only the very best being considered for placement in the unit.
Prior to Mike Dillon’s involvement a typical setup for the 160th was to place two M134’s on either side of a helicopter. It was widely believed that the use of 4 M134’s merely increased firepower. The reality was a good bit more grim. The M134 was so unreliable that a backup gun was needed in the event that the primary gun failed. As much as the 160th relied on them, the M134’s were fast becoming a liability.
Enter Mike Dillon. Mike’s work with the M134 had led him to begin re-engineering various components. The first was the feeder/de-linker. Chris Dillon, Vice President of Dillon Aero explains; “The feeder/de-linker is a component of the gun that takes linked ammunition out of a magazine, separates and discards the link, then takes the cartridge and feeds it into the gun’s bolts. It does that process 50 times every second.” – See more
Members of the 160th became aware of Mike’s improvement of the M134 and contacted him to order the upgraded components. Over the years Dillon Aero’s redesign of the M134 became so thorough that failures and stoppages decreased dramatically. The M134 became the M134D and a weapon that was on the brink of being scrapped came to prominence in defending the men and women of the United States once again.
As usual Mike Dillon went above and beyond “just” making massive improvements in a system. He also provided the absolute best in support of that system. In the end Mike Dillon and the support that he provided was so appreciated by the members of the 160th that they made him an honorary member of the regiment.
Mike Dillon’s interests seemed to turn hobbies into businesses at every turn. In spite of his tireless devotion to those businesses he stated that after he left TWA he never worked a day in his life. That passion for his work is what drove Mike to relentlessly devote his time and energies towards improving the M134, or Mini-Gun as it is commonly known, and save it from the scrap heap of failed military arms. According to Dillon Aero’s own “About Us” page Mikes Dillon’s involvement with the m134 began, as so many of Mikes projects seemed to, with something completely different as the motive:
“Dillon Aero is an off-shoot of parent company Dillon Precision, and its origins as well as that of the modern M134D can be traced back to one long, cold night on a dry lake bed in Northern Arizona. For more than 25 years, Dillon Precision has produced the world’s finest small arms ammunition reloading equipment. In the early 90’s DP acquired a handful of surplus GE GAU-2 Miniguns for use in the movie industry. Miniguns had appeared in a number of films such as Predator and Terminator and were a hot item in the movie business. Unfortunately, the guns could never be made to function reliably. On one particular film shoot, Dillon Precision had been contracted to provide Miniguns for the British Television Top Gear being filmed in Arizona.
Unfortunately, the guns were proving temperamental. Failure after failure threatened the entire shooting schedule. Gun crews worked straight through the last night to coax the weapons into firing a few hundred rounds without jamming. When the sun rose, the exhausted gun crew loaded the weapons. With cameras rolling and fingers crossed, they pulled the trigger. The guns roared to life just long enough to get the shot, and then jammed again.
By the time the film shoot had finished, frustration over Miniguns poor performance had turned to disgust. The designers at Dillon decided that they were either going to fix the weapon or shelve it permanently.”
Thankfully those efforts paid off both for Dillon Aero and for the military. Below we have an excerpt from Vertical 911 highlighting Dillon Aero’s origins and accomplishments. That is followed by a video of the M134D in action. If you prefer direct access to the pdf click here.
Mike Dillon was serious about defending our right to keep and bear arms. So serious in fact that he served on the Board of Directors of the NRA and to this day Dillon offers new members an incredible deal on an NRA membership. If you aren’t a member Mike’s offer still stands and you can check it out here.
NRA Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer Wayne LaPierre was kind enough to send us a video in which he expresses his condolences to Mike Dillon’s family, friends and loved ones. Mr. LaPierre’s narrative covers many highlights in the life of a man with wide ranging accomplishments and accolades. We hope you enjoy this video tribute to Mike Dillon as much as we all did.
Mike didn’t do things by half measures. When he made a reloading machine he made the best reloading machine. When he improved the design of a machine gun he improved it to a point that brought it back from being mothballed and into current, standard, military usage. When he made a video about competition shooting he used the best competition shooter in the world, Rob Leatham. He also took that video to places that no competition shooting video had gone to before. There are night shoots with tracers, helicopters, instruction from the best competition shooter alive, and even a fantasy shootout sequence. He called the video “Shooter Ready?” and you can see a promo for it below.
Mike Dillon was an aviator, machine gun enthusiast, businessman and innovator, he was also an excellent publisher. Since The Blue Press first came out in October of 1990 Mike made sure that reading his catalog was more than a quick flip through to check for new products and specials. The Blue Press delivers much more and we aren’t JUST talking about the models that adorn the cover. The articles inside The Blue Press have always made it a shooting magazine just as much, if not more, than a catalog. We can’t get you reprints of the first issue but we can offer you a chance to see it via the .pdf file below. The controlls below the first page will allow you to flip through the entire October 1990 issue or you can see it here.
When Mike Dillon heard that the victims of hurricane Katrina needed help he could’ve written a check, as so many generous people did, but instead he gave more than his money to the effort; Mike gathered up a crew and flew to New Orleans in his Huey. If you click on the image below you’ll be able to read about Mike’s heroic contribution from an article that appeared in the December 2005 edition of Popular Mechanics. If you prefer you can access the pdf directly here.
When Mike Dillon embarked on a plan to provide executive protection to overseas personnel there were no half measures taken. This video gives you a great look at the super secure, and armed to the teeth, Dillon Tactical Vehicle.