The Lightning Gun is the Air Pirates most infamous and dangerous weapon to boot in history. The lightning gun is a true weapon of terror, the single factor which almost ensured the Air Pirates' success during their historic Attack on Cape Suzette.
Fabricated entirely out of salvaged and stolen materials and used by a crew of criminals, this weapon became a tool of mass destruction — indeed, it stands as one of the greatest weapons of all time.
The lightning gun is essentially a huge cannon mounted on a mobile base. What is unique about this weapon is the fact that it fires not explosive shells, but blasts of concentrated electricity generated by a power source located at the rear of the cannon. Not only does is the lightning gun far more destructive than conventional artillery, but it also possesses "lightning-fast" rapid-fire capabilities unheard of for a weapon its size.
Not just any power source will do when operating the lightning gun. Estimations of the lightning gun's power requirements indicate that the cannon needed a minimum electrical charge of several megawatts for proper firing! Even the most advanced batteries and power generators cannot build up enough charge to activate the weapon, let alone fire it. Only an incredibly powerful, totally efficient power source can be used.
This is precisely the reason that the lightning gun was designed entirely around the Sub-Electron Amplifier, or "Khan stone," developed by Shere Khan's scientists as a way to power all of Khan's businesses without the waste or expense of standard power sources. The stone or crystal generates power through sub-electron amplification, a process that involves stimulating subatomic particles to levels far beyond normal. The stone acts merely as a catalyst for the process, making its power output virtually limitless.
To operate the lightning gun, the sub-electron amplifier must be placed in a special holder at the rear of the cannon. A pull of the firing lever sends a small priming current through the stone, causing sub-electron amplication. Once a sufficient charge is built up, it travels through a highly-conductive wire to glass resistor cells that collect and dilute the energy. (Interestingly, the raw energy produced by the stone is slightly too powerful for the gun to handle safely.)
The processed energy then flows across a series of electrode towers down the central channel and into the emitter matrix, where it is concentrated into a tight beam and fired. Blast rings around the matrix eliminate flashback from the beam and preserve its coherency. In addition, a fraction of the energy created by the stone is recycled and stored for beginning the next firing sequence.
The entire process is controlled by an operator who sits at a control panel near the sub-electron amplifier. The lightning gun is aimed manually — using a joystick, the operator activates gears and hydraulics that rotate the gun into firing position with ease. To use the lightning gun safely, the operator must wear a special helmet connected to the top of his seat. Not only does the helmet have goggles to protect the operator's eyes from the blast, but it also shields the operator to prevent health hazards from his being in such close proximity to high levels of energy.
The destructive capacity of the lightning gun can be measured by the extent of damage Cape Suzette suffered from its use. Bridges, streets, and whole sections of buildings were torn apart by the sheer power of the energy bolts fired from the lightning gun. Defense squadrons attempting to disable the lightning gun suffered much the same fate, wings and fuselages incinerated by the gun's powerful blasts.
There are drawbacks to the design of the lightning gun, however. Due to the intense energy involved in using the weapon, it cannot be fired safely in enclosed areas. The lightning gun is most effective when it is placed out in the open, making it vulnerable to attack. Also, because the lightning gun's powerful beam is merely a concentrated form of electrical energy, it cannot penetrate insulating materials such as rubber. A sufficient layer of such materials can partially or completely deflect the blast.
Presumably through an informant placed somewhere in Khan Industries, Don Karnage discovered the project in its final testing phases. Realizing the potential the stone offered for fulfilling Karnage's plans to conquer Cape Suzette, he and his men focused all their efforts on building a weapon that could somehow take advantage of the tremendous power of the sub-electron amplifier. Raids on Khan cargo planes increased fourfold over the next weeks. The pirates were choosy, stealing only those items that they needed to build their lightning gun — such as flagpoles, fishbowls, and industrial-strength wire — to the bewilderment of their victims.
This huge plunder was turned over to the capable hands of the Air Pirates' expert mechanic Ratchet. With the help of a "Do-It-Yourself" electronics manual, Ratchet pieced and spot-welded together a giant cannon designed to focus the awesome energy of the stone into a powerful electrical beam. Acting on another tip, the Pirates hijacked Khan Flight 127, en-route to Cape Suzette to present the stone to Shere Khan himself.
Rebecca Cunningham and Baloo took advantage of its weaknesses to stop the lightning gun. Covering the Sea Duck in automobile tires and rubber tarps, Baloo, Kit, and Rebecca took off to stop Karnage from destroying Cape Suzette. The lightning gun fired several blasts but they had little effect on the rubberized Duck, which collided with the cannon and knocked it down off the Iron Vulture into the bay. On contact with the water the sub-electron amplifier exploded, obliterating both it and the remains of the lightning gun.
The destruction of the stone and the subsequent abandonment of Khan's sub-electron amplifier project make it highly unlikely that the Air Pirates will try to construct a second lightning gun, unless another powerful new source of energy is developed in the near future.