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Merlin to deliver Alaska cargo with self-flying aircraft

Company installs automated flight control in single-engine Cessna

Merlin has integrated its flight control software and hardware into several aircraft types, including the Cessna Caravan. (Photo: Merlin)

Merlin, a developer of autonomous flight control systems retrofitted in fixed-wing aircraft, said it will deliver cargo to communities in Alaska with a single-engine Cessna Caravan to demonstrate the technology’s capability on real routes.

The effort is made possible by a $1 million contract from the Federal Aviation Administration, Boston-based Merlin announced Wednesday. 

Merlin’s software and hardware can control an aircraft without human intervention. 

The trials are scheduled to begin this quarter with the aim of reaching underserved areas of Alaska with needed supplies. A human safety pilot will accompany each flight to monitor the experimental flight control system. All routes will originate from Fairbanks and fly to five rural destinations, including Galena and Prudhoe Bay.

Everts Air Cargo, which operates a fleet of vintage planes in Alaska, is lending hangar space and operational expertise to the project. The University of Alaska Fairbanks will provide research and other assistance.

Merlin has conducted hundreds of missions with its automated flight control system on five aircraft types from its private flight test facility in Mojave, California. The company, founded in 2018, has a partnership with Ameriflight, the largest U.S. charter cargo airline in the small aircraft category, and the U.S. Air Force to test its autonomous flying technology. 

Merlin has raised more than $130 million from various investors.

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Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals and a Silver Medal from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government and trade coverage, and news analysis. He was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. In December 2022, he was voted runner up for Air Cargo Journalist by the Seahorse Freight Association. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]