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Merlin Labs Partner with Dynamic Aviation to Bring Autonomy to Fleet

Merlin Labs — a developer of autonomous flight technology for fixed-wing aircraft, which came out of stealth on May 26 — has just announced the first public implementation of its autonomous digital pilot technology in a partnership with Dynamic Aviation, which operates the world’s largest private fleet of King Airs. Merlin will automate 55 of Dynamic Aviation’s high-performance King Air platforms, which will support a wide range of public- and private-sector missions.

Merlin, which is co-located in Boston, Denver, and Los Angeles, also announced that it has raised a total of $25 million in funding from Google Ventures and First Round Capital — with other investors including Floodgate, Harpoon, WTI, Ben Ling, Box Group, Shrug Capital, and Howard Morgan.

Merlin’s on-board autonomy platform is “aircraft-agnostic,” and it does not involve a remote pilot controlling the plane. 

The company is building its autonomy system to reduce crew in larger cargo aircraft for public and private use. But Merlin says the system is ultimately “for all things that fly.”

“Our immediate goal is to allow an aircraft to make its own decisions, with a pilot maintaining a presence for monitoring purposes,” the company said. Longer-term, Merlin hopes to use its autonomous infrastructure to enable goods, and eventually people, to fly safely without human pilots on board.

The first King Air from the partnership with Dynamic is currently in flight trials at Merlin’s facility at Mojave Air & Space Port in California.

“We’re proud to partner with Dynamic to begin the process of moving autonomy from the lab and to the market,” said Matthew George, Merlin co-founder and CEO. “This deal represents a major commercial milestone, as well as Merlin’s commitment to support larger and more complex aircraft.”

This year, Merlin completed a successful test flight with its autonomous system on an experimental King Air aircraft.

Dynamic Aviation, based in Virginia, has a fleet of over 140 aircraft, and offers mission-specific airborne assets to global commercial and government customers who have unique requirements.

Michael Stoltzfus, CEO of Dynamic Aviation, said: “We are honored to partner with Merlin by leveraging this leading-edge technology in an operational platform. We look forward to serving alongside Merlin to create extraordinary value for customers around the world.”

Prior to this partnership, Merlin had flown hundreds of test missions out of Mojave, performed thousands of simulated test hours, and integrated its platform into four different aircraft types — ranging from single-engine to complex, twin-turboprop aircraft. The latter is what the company believes sets it apart from competitors; while other companies are working with single-engine aircraft, Merlin is flying King Airs.

“Nothing matters more than safety,” the company added. “We’re working with some of the world’s top safety experts to deploy autonomy through our ‘crawl, walk, run’ approach. We’ll continue to do our due diligence at every step . . . and to safely integrate into the National Airspace System in partnership with regulators.”