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Merlin to deliver Alaska cargo with self-flying aircraft

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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