US Air Force agrees to test Merlin Pilot on the KC-135 Stratotanker


Merlin has agreed a deal with the US Air Force to design, integrate, test and demonstrate aspects of the Merlin Pilot on the KC-135 Stratotanker for the first time.

The multi-year partnership, to be conducted in collaboration with Air Mobility Command (AMC) and Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC), will take a stepwise approach starting with reducing crew workload, before proceeding to reduced crew operations. The KC-135 represents Merlin’s sixth unique aircraft integration, alongside the Beechcraft King Air, de Havilland Twin Otter, Cessna Caravan, Long-EZ and Cozy Mark IV.

“We are proud to continue our work with the USAF as they expand safe, reduced crew options for their aircraft to advance and scale for future operational needs,” said Matt George, CEO and co-founder, Merlin. 

“Integrating onto one of the most abundant and important military aircraft in the USAF’s fleet allows Merlin to materially evolve our advanced automation systems, which includes enabling autonomous close formation flying for the KC-135. Our work with Air Mobility Command will build meaningful operating data, serving as an important step to maturing functional autonomy across the force.”

As the system gains experience and trust, it will pave the way for autonomous uncrewed operations of the KC-135, Merlin said. The collaboration with the US Air Force will include, but is not limited to, system integration, ground testing and extended flight demonstrations.

The agreement builds on recently completed ground surveys, in-flight data collection, human factors studies and initial integration designs. The firm’s goal is to achieve an in-flight demonstration of the Merlin Pilot in the next year. 

A series of joint USAF-Merlin flight demonstrations will include basic air refuelling operations, and showcase how its dual-use technologies can serve USAF missions as well as help inform the planned Next Generation Air-Refuelling System (NGAS).