Wednesday, April 17, 2024

US Air Force to test autonomous flight capabilities on KC-135 tanker

Merlin, a developer of safe and autonomous flight technology, announced that it had forged an agreement with the United States Air Force (USAF).

The collaboration, undertaken in conjunction with Air Mobility Command (AMC) and Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC), aims to integrate and demonstrate Merlin’s cutting-edge Pilot system on the iconic KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling tanker.

The multi-year partnership between Merlin and the USAF is set to introduce a stepwise approach to enhance the capabilities of the KC-135, beginning with the reduction of crew workload and progressing towards autonomous uncrewed operations. This ambitious initiative represents a significant leap forward in advancing the Air Force’s mission readiness and operational efficiency.


Merlin’s innovative Pilot system, designed to enable safe and autonomous flight for fixed-wing aircraft, will undergo rigorous testing and demonstration phases to validate its performance and reliability. The integration onto the KC-135, a pivotal asset in the USAF’s fleet for over six decades, signifies a major milestone in Merlin’s quest to advance automation systems for military applications.

Matt George, CEO and co-founder of Merlin, expressed confidence in the partnership’s potential to shape the future of aerial operations, stating, “Integrating onto one of the most abundant and important military aircraft in the USAF’s fleet allows Merlin to materially evolve our advanced automation systems, which includes enabling autonomous close formation flying for the KC-135.”

The KC-135 Stratotanker, renowned for its indispensable role in aerial refueling missions, serves as a linchpin for global reach and operational flexibility. With a robust payload capacity and long-standing track record of reliability, the KC-135 exemplifies the USAF’s commitment to maintaining air superiority and supporting allied nations’ defense efforts.

As the collaboration between Merlin and the USAF progresses, the implementation of autonomous flight technology on the KC-135 promises to redefine the future of air operations, paving the way for enhanced mission capabilities and operational effectiveness.

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Executive Editor

About author:

Colton Jones
Colton Jones
Colton Jones is the deputy editor of Defence Blog. He is a US-based journalist, writer and publisher who specializes in the defense industry in North America and Europe. He has written about emerging technology in military magazines and elsewhere. He is a former Air Force airmen and served at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany.



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