Merlin wins FAA contract to deploy nation’s first unmanned air cargo network


The FAA has awarded Merlin a $1m contract to demonstrate an automated flight control system in conjunction with a safety pilot in Alaska. 

In partnership with the University of Alaska Fairbanks UAS Test Site and Everts Air Cargo, the Merlin Pilot will be the first autonomy system integrated into the national airspace system. Flight trials will run along three test routes serving five destinations.

Last year, Merlin announced a $105m Series B financing along with key partnerships with the USAF, the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority, and the FAA. The funding has allowed Merlin to continue developing its integrated hardware and software solution known as the Merlin Pilot.

Dr. 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.”

The trials are set to begin in Q2 2023 with an aim of reaching underserved areas of Alaska to allow better access to supplies while reducing the safety risk to pilots. Merlin will use crewed aircraft augmented with the Merlin Pilot, its integrated hardware and software solution, to serve rural cargo destinations. During the initial testing phase, safety pilots will monitor the experimental flight control system. All routes will originate from Fairbanks and separately fly to Fort Yukon, Galena, Prudhoe Bay, Huslia and Tanana.

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.”