Startup Merlin has received a US$1 million contract from the USA’s FAA to demonstrate its automated flight control system called Pilot.
The flight trials are planned to take place at the University of Alaska Fairbanks UAS Test Site in partnership with Everts Air Cargo and the FAA before July this year. When they do, Merlin said it will be the first autonomous flight system integrated into the USA’s National Airspace System.
Earlier this week Xwing announced it had started the process to certify its Superpilot system with the FAA so it can be used to fly uncrewed commercial cargo aircraft in the USA. It too plans to start flying autonomous cargo flights in the US in the coming months using a fleet of 34 modified Cessna Caravans.
Last year, Merlin announced a $105 million Series B financing along with partnerships with the United States Air Force, the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority, and the FAA.
Cathy Cahill, director of the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration (ACUASI) at the UAF Geophysical Institute said, “Alaska’s terrain and inclement weather can challenge the most experienced pilots. And yet remote communities rely on air cargo deliveries for vital supplies such as milk, mail, and medicine.
“Working with Merlin on these flight trials benefits our residents and provides data with each flight that will create not only a safer airspace in Alaska but technology that is applicable worldwide.
“This program will help thousands of our state’s remote residents to acquire supplies necessary to sustain life and it’s exciting that the advent of new technologies can drive greater equity and access across our communities.”
Merlin plans to use crewed aircraft augmented with its Merlin Pilot integrated hardware and software solution to serve rural cargo destinations. During the initial testing phase, safety pilots will monitor the experimental flight control system.
Three test routes all of which originate from the UAS Alaska test site will serve five destinations, Fort Yukon, Galena, Prudhoe Bay, Huslia and Tanana during the trials.
Matthew George, co-founder and CEO of Merlin said, “The Merlin Pilot is being developed to make the skies safer and more accessible. These initial flight trials are vital to maturing our in-flight capabilities and it’s rewarding that this work will also serve a material need in the communities of Alaska.
“To date, we have conducted hundreds of missions with our Merlin Pilot on five aircraft types from our dedicated flight test facility in Mojave, California. Alongside the FAA, and our operating partner Everts Air Cargo, we’re thrilled that the Merlin Pilot will soon be learning in a real world, complex environment.”
Merlin was founded in 2018 and is headquartered in Boston, with additional offices in Los Angeles, Denver, Mojave and Kerikeri, New Zealand.