Merlin Labs will convert up to 55 Beechcraft King Air twin turboprops operated by Dynamic Aviation for autonomous flight, the companies announced this week. Boston-based Merlin has raised $25 million to support its plans to bring its “drop-in autonomy kit” into commercial service.
A King Air from Dynamic’s fleet is now being used for flight testing at Mojave Air & Space Port in California. Merlin intends to convert multiple aircraft types under FAA supplemental type certificates with its flight control system, which consists of computers, servos, actuators, and sensors.
The conversion process begins with the company performing a series of survey flights in which a test pilot conducts maneuvers to gather data. Using this data, Merlin builds an autonomous flight control model that is specific to each aircraft type, using hardware-in-the-loop, software-in-the-loop, and aircraft-in-the-loop simulators.
Once it has established that the model works in the simulators, the company installs them in a real aircraft and then gradually expands the envelope for autonomous flight, culminating in full takeoff-to-touchdown autonomy.
Merlin has been granted approval from the FAA to conduct optionally piloted tests that allow the company to control flights from the ground for some operations. However, all flight testing is conducted with a monitoring pilot on board.
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