Aviation’s path to autonomous flight will involve extracting more than a few Excaliburs, but Merlin Labs, a developer of autonomous flight technology, has unveiled plans to retrofit a 50-unit fleet of King Air aircraft operated by Dynamic Aviation with its own aircraft-agnostic autopilot system. The Boston-based startup came out of stealth mode May 26, with $25 million in new funding and intending to automate Part 23 aircraft weighing 19,000 pounds or less that carry up to 19 passengers.
“We take a bare-metal aircraft, retrofit the aircraft with servers, actuators, computers, airspace sensors, and enable that aircraft to then start to fly digitally,” said Merlin founder and CEO Matt George. “Once the aircraft is loaded with the drop-in autonomy kit, we train the aircraft to be able to fly by having a human pilot train it.”
While pilots will still operate alongside the intelligent aircraft, Merlin is looking to reduce flight crew sizes in larger aircraft and remove pilots altogether from the cockpits of smaller aircraft.
Merlin’s first aircraft under the partnership is currently undergoing flight trials in the Mojave Desert.