Autonomous-Flight Developer Inks Eight-Figure Air Force Contract

The autonomous flight developer has signed an eight-figure contract with the Air Force
Autonomous flight technology developer Merlin Labs recently signed a deal with the U.S. The Air Force will provide autonomy to the C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft and close a $105 million Series B investment round.

As part of the eight-figure contract for the Air Force, Merlin will help the Air Force improve the safety and operational flexibility of its C-130 transport aircraft, the most widespread cargo aircraft in the fleet, with software that enables certain autonomous applications. including reduced crew and eventually unmanned flight. The improvements will be especially important in light of the global pilot shortage, Merlin said.

The Series B funding round was led by Snowpoint and Baille Gifford and included participation from Google Ventures, JS Capital and First Round. It follows the company’s $25 million Series A round in 2021, led by Google Ventures and First Round. Since transitioning from stealth mode in May 2021, the company has announced a number of significant milestones.

In September, Merlin received certification approval for an autonomous take-off-to-touch system from New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in a joint project with the US FAA. This makes Merlin the first company to reach an agreement with airworthiness authorities on the autonomous aircraft platform certification process, Merlin said.

“The CAA decision clearly puts Merlin ahead of all other companies in the world in providing full autonomy to the skies,” Merlin NZ CEO Shaun Johnson said at the time. The company expects flights piloted with autonomous technology to be able to take off, navigate, land, and communicate with air traffic control as early as next year. Merlin technology is used for fixed-wing aircraft and is currently working on five models, including the Beechcraft King Air. Last May, Merlin announced a partnership with Dynamic Aviation to automate its 55-year-old fleet of King Airs, the largest in the world.

Merlin also recently partnered with Ameriflight, the largest Part 135 cargo airline in the US. (Part 135 carriers operate unscheduled on-demand air service, often to remote areas not served by traditional carriers.) Under the agreement, Merlin Ameriflight will equip its fleet of autonomous and semi-autonomous aircraft. a capability that Ameriflight hopes will give it a head start when an autonomous flight is approved by the industry.

“We believe Merlin’s technology is not only the most advanced but also the best-suited for what our customers need,” said Ameriflight President and CEO Paul Chase. “This will potentially allow us to provide autonomous or semi-autonomous flight at a cost of additional effort that we believe is best for our customers compared to other options.”