Machine Gun News/December 1995

The American 180

American 180 SAR

A Full Choke

by Capt. Monty Mendenhall
Only one .22LR machine gun has officially been issued for use by a state agency: the American 180. The Utah Depatment of Corrections armed its prison gaurds with laser-sighted American 180 machine guns. The gaurds report that shining the "laser dot" on trouble makers had a submissive effect on them.

The American 180 and its drum magazine is reminiscent of the Brittish Lewis gun. Unlike the Lewis Gun, the American 180 fires from an unlocked, open breech. The Lewis gun's operating mechanism powered its drum magazine. The American 180's drum magazine is powered by a "wind-up spring motor."

At 1500+ rounds per minute, the American 180 sounds more like a chainsaw than a machine gun. American 180's are seldom seen at machine gun shoots. Some may think that they are toys because of their .22LR caliber. That evaluation is far from correct. In most "entry" situations, the American 180 may be the best weapon available. No machine gun is more controllable. Videos taken of a six second burst reveal only a small rearward movement of the muzzle as recoil compresses the shooter's clothing. After that, the muzzle is still as empty brass pours from the gun.

Factory demonstration videos reveal that the American 180's high rate of fire will defeat many bullet resistant vests with a "jack hammer effect." Yet in the event of a miss, the .22LR cartridge does not have excessive penetration for most urban situations.

Val Cooper, of E&L Manufacturing, graciously supplied most of the information for this story. Val reports that the American 180 was originally imported from Austria and later assembled in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The American 180 was marketed by the American Arms International Corporation (AAI). The name "180" was selected because the capacity of the original prototype's three-tiered drum magazine was 180 rounds. The original metal production models held 177 rounds.

When American Arms International first decided to manufacture the American 180 in the United States as opposed to importing from Austria, the production guns became "Fully Transferrable" instead of "Pre-86 Dealer Samples" like the imported guns. These American Arms manufactured American 180s are the only ones that may be owned by non-Class 3 dealers, and they command a premium on the market. American Arms did try several subcontractors to manufacture the guns for them, and there were 24 fully-transferable American 180s that were made by a company called S&S Arms. These had a lighter finished color, and some were actually colored red or green. American Arms also produced a model that was chrome-plated, as well as a 24 karat gold-plated model that was offered for $16,000.

Production of the American 180 was begun by The Illinois Arms Corporation (Ilarco) after AAI closed its doors. When foreigh sales of American 180s didn't materialize, Ilarco declared bankruptcy. Most of the company's assests were acquired by Feather Industries.

All of the American 180s manufactured by Ilarco were Post-86 dealer samples for law enforcement and Class 3 dealers only.

American 180s produced by all three companies are similiar. Most parts will interchange; a few parts are different. Val Cooper acquired the remaining parts from Feather Industries. He can maintain American 180s made by any manufacturer.

Val Cooper stated that the American 180 works fine with many brands of ammunition, but Winchester is not a good choice. The powder used in Winchester .22LR ammunition burns too fast. This causes the American 180 to cycle too quickly. The fired cases are pulled from the chamber before pressure drops to a safe level. This causes ruptured cases.

Extensive testing was done with several brands of ammo but not Winchester. All performed well. None were better than CCI .22LR Blazers. Val Cooper's personal choice of ammunition is Federal Lightenings.

Fired at twenty-five to thirty-rounds per second, depending on brand of ammo, the American 180 can produce a continuous burst as long as seven seconds. If that is not enough, E&L Manufacturing still has some of its preban 275-round magazines. These can produce up to eleven seconds of fire.

The American 180 is extremely controllable when fired from the shoulder in bursts of five rounds. At fifty feet, eighty percent of the hits will be in the black rings of an NRA slow fire pistol target.

The American 180 was fired at an IPSC target at 100 yards. Using iron sights, fifty rounds were shot in bursts of five while leaning on a car roof for support. This firing position is one that a police officer might use. There were forty-four hits on the IPSC target. Twenty-seven were in the "A" zone. That is a very good performance.

The American 180 does not have a muzzle break. It does not need one. Some models did have a flash suppessor.

The total weight of five .22LR bullets is 195 grains, about the same as one .45ACP Winchester Silvertip. Reports from the field indicate that the effect of multiple hits in a very rapid succession is devastating. According to Alan C, Paulson, it is the moral equivalent of buckshot. Think of the American 180 as a "full choke 100-yard shotgun."

Val Cooper reported that there is only one documented case of an American 180 being fired in a confrontation. A police officer, in a small Florida town, used his American 180 to stop a felon who was fleeing in a car. Forty-plus rounds were fired through the car door. The felon saw the error of his ways and was sincerely sorry.

The American 180 is available in three barrel lengths: nine, fourteen and sixteen inches. These barrels may be interchanged in seconds without using tools.

Short Barreled American 180

The nine and fourteen inch barrels are threaded for suppressors. Val Cooper states that screw-on muzzle cans do not work well. To be reliable, the American 180 must use high velocity ammo. The supersonic "boom" occurs outside of the suppressor and negates much of the suppressors work.

Like the 1921 Thompson machine gun, the American 180's butt stock removes with the push of a button. With a nine-inch barrel and no stock, the American 180 is very short. It is still bulky, though, due to its large magazine. In this configuration, it is not a good choice for an undercover weapon.

For covert operations, an "undercover briefcase" was made for the American 180. Superficially, it appears to be an expensive, high quality businessman's briefcase. Inside is a short-barreled, laser-sighted American 180. It is aimed and fired from inside the closed briefcase.

The controls for the "undercover briefcase" are reliable and clever. Like many "top-of-the-line" briefcases, the "undercover briefcase" has a combination lock. Setting the right combination releases the first safety. Hidden in the briefcase's handle are two inconspicuous "push button" switches. The first switch turns on the laser and releases the final safety. The second switch fires the American 180. Factory demonstration videos of the "undercover briefcase" show that is very effective at close range. Like the shoulder-stocked version, little movement is caused by the recoil.

The American 180's standard peep sight is adjustable for elevation and windage. It is installed on a grooved rail and is simple to remove. Once removed, a "red dot" sight or scope sight may be installed on the rail using standard .22 "Tip Off" rings. With a 1.5 to 4 power scope, the American 180 could be very useful in hostage rescue situations. Val Cooper recommends using the short Beeman model SS-2 scope.

The American 180 has a few faults. Magazine changes are slow. The magazine lacks a follower. For this reason, the last round in the magazine often fails to feed. Unless the user has "backup units" to protect him, it would be best to drop the American 180 and draw a hangun if he runs out of ammo during a fire fight.

If an American 180 user fires in effective five-round burst, running out of ammo is unlikely. With 177 rounds of ammo, the user has thirty-five bursts available. If an E&L 275-round magazine is used, fifty-five bursts are possible.

The instruction manual supplied with the American 180 is one of the best in the industry. It is profusely illustrated and very readable.

There are a few details about the drum that are worthy of note. The magazine has two parts: the drum and the spring motor that powers it.

The ammo in the American 180 drum is stacked in tiers. The 177-round magazine has three tiers. E&L's 275-round magazine has five tiers. As it fires, the drum makes one 360 degree revolution per tier of ammo.

The drum is slow to load by hand; it takes ten to fifteen minutes. E&L makes a neat loading tray that clips to the magazine. With it, an experienced person can load a 177-round magazine in three minutes.

Using the Loading Tray

After loading the drum, the spring motor must be installed in the magazine. This is a simple job, but it must be done correctly. If the spring motor is mounted improperly, it will jump out the magazine and unwind instantly. This rapid unwinding will jam the spring motor every time. It is not user-repairable and must be returned to E&L for repair. E&L can rework the old original style "geared" winder to the new "nongeared" configuration. The new type will not jam if misused.

After placing the magazine on the American 180, the spring motor must be wound one and one quarter turns per layer of ammo.

If the magazine must be removed from the gun after winding the spring motor, be sure to move the spring motor's brake lever to the outermost position marked "F". If a wound-up spring motor is removed from the magazine before the brake is applied, the motor may be damaged unless it has been converted to the new style.

The Ilarco manufactured American 180 was available in a twin gun configuration. Two receivers were mounted on a single stock. Weighing over fourteen pounds, it must have been awkward to use. At 3000+ rpm, it had tremendous firepower. Val Cooper stated that with a single American 180 and one magazine, he could, "Blow a hole in a cinder block wall big enough to crawl through, every time." Factory demonstration videos confirn that this is true. What would two guns have done?

A few quad-mounted American 180s were built. These "Quad 22s" fired from a tripod at the devastating rate of 7000+ rpm.

Val Cooper told of an American 180 salesman in New England who mounted a pair of quad American 180s on a Falcon ultralight airplane. The "Quad 22s" were placed in removable brackets on the left and right sides of the fuselage. The salesman hoped to make sales to third world governments.

The indivdual guns could be fired in any combination. They could be fired one at a time or one on the left and one on the right or all eight at once. Using 275-round drums and firing the guns singly produced eighty-eight seconds of fire. In most cases, all eight American 180s would be fired at once to minimize return fire from the ground.

After receiving Coast Guard permission, the salesman dropped bouys offshore in the Atlantic and made strafing runs on them. If his aim was good, he must have literally "blown them out of the water." His combined rate of fire was 12,000-plus rounds per minute.

The American 180 armed Falcon could be disassembled and air dropped to a forward location. Only 500 feet of a relatively straight road was needed for a runway.

It was claimed that the Falcon could be made ready for flight in only ten minutes after an air drop. This claim is unlikely. After initial assembly of the Falcon, a prudent pilot would probably need twenty minutes just to make his preflight inspection.

No armed Falcons were sold. The whereabouts of the prototype is unknown. Val Cooper was the prototype Falcon's gun brackets and electronic firing controls.

Besides maintaining American 180s for owners, E&L makes a "spray-on" graphite product called E&L Dry Gunlube. It is very good for use inside magazines. The dry lubrication will not harms primers. Since it is not oily, unburned powder and other fouling does not stick to it. Magazines stay cleaner longer.

E&L Dry Gunlube also can make suppressor cleaning easier. Disassemble a new or just cleaned suppressor. Spray the internal parts and inside of the tube liberally with E&L Dry Gunlube. Coat the threads with an "antiseize compound" and reassemble it. ("Antiseize compound" is available at most auto parts stores. Its primary use is on spark plug threads. It will make future suppressor disassembly much easier.)

When the Dry Gunlube treated suppressor is dirty again, disassemble it. Place the internal suppressor parts into a vibrating case cleaner and run it for a few hours. The fouling does not adhere well to the E&L Dry Gunlube. All but the most stuborn deposits will be cleaned off by the case cleaning media. Remaining small spots may be scraped off quickly with a knife blade.

Val Cooper does not recommend E&L Dry Gunlube for the American 180. He states there are several good oils that are better suited to lubricating it. He also recommneds an inexpensive oil that can be mixed at home.

Into a one-quart jar, pour one inch of STP motor oil treatment. Fill jar with 50/50 mixture of WD-40 and 10W machine oil. (WD-40 and 10W machine oil are available in one gallon cans in many auto parts stores.) Shake well and pour the mixture into a spray can. Shake the spray can before each use.

E&L also makes brass catchers. They clip to the gun and prevent loss of fired cases. This is a boon for reloaders.

Due to the 1986 gun control law and an unfortunate lack of demand by law enforcement agencies, the American 180 was not developed to its true potential. A short .22 Magnum round with a jacketed bullet was made experimentally. It had velocity of 1350 feet per second. Its energy was halfway between .22LR and .22WMR. It was planned that the new .22 Short Magnum be sold in loaded, disposable plastic, American 180 magazines.

American 180 owners have a unique gun. Its place in firearms history is assured. There is nothing else like it.