Merlin Labs, an advanced aviation technology company, has reached a significant milestone in the development of its advanced automated flight system. Following a lucrative $1 million contract with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Merlin recently completed a series of 25 test flights in Alaska, showcasing its highly-automated flight control system alongside a safety pilot.
In collaboration with the FAA-designated University of Alaska Fairbanks UAS Test Site and Everts Air Cargo, Merlin successfully deployed its integrated hardware and software solution, the Merlin Pilot, on crewed aircraft for these groundbreaking test flights. Departing from Fairbanks, the flights ventured into rural areas, reaching destinations such as Fort Yukon, Galena, Huslia, Tanana, and Prudhoe Bay. Throughout the course of these flights, the Merlin Pilot logged over sixty hours of autonomous flight time, collecting vital data in real-world conditions characterized by challenging terrains and adverse weather.
This extensive data acquisition is crucial for enhancing Merlin’s in-flight capabilities and driving progress in aviation autonomy. By pushing the boundaries of technology in actual operating environments, Merlin aims to make the skies safer and more accessible for future generations. As a result of these successful test flights, Merlin has achieved a major feat, becoming the first autonomy system to be integrated into the National Airspace System (NAS).
Operating in Alaska poses unique challenges due to its vast distances, extreme climate variations, and limited communication coverage. Dr. Cathy Cahill, Director of the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration (ACUASI) at the UAF Geophysical Institute, praised Merlin’s ability to navigate these challenges successfully. She emphasized their integrated approach to Alaska’s distinctive ecosystem as a key factor in their selection for collaboration with the FAA. Merlin’s commitment to using real data for training their onboard automation system ensures the highest level of safety.
Matthew George, co-founder and CEO of Merlin, expressed his gratitude for the support and partnership of the FAA, Everts Air Cargo, and ACUASI. He highlighted the critical role played by the flight trial data in refining their in-flight technology and certifying the Merlin Pilot. Moreover, George underscored the significance of the Merlin Pilot’s capability to access remote locations in Alaska, demonstrating its potential to support dangerous missions.
Why it’s important: Merlin’s successful completion of the test flights in Alaska represents a significant step forward in advancing the future of automated flight. By collecting valuable data in challenging real-world environments, Merlin’s technology holds the potential to advance flight operations crewing solutions while also increasing the safety and repeatability of operational execution.