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New age of aviation: U.S. plans to equip with unmanned refueling aircraft

New age of aviation: U.S. plans to equip with unmanned refueling aircraft Photo: KC-135 Stratotanker (
Author: Liliana Oleniak

Merlin has entered into an agreement with the United States Air Force (USAF) to develop an unmanned version of Boeing's KC-135 Stratotanker military refueling aircraft, according to Defense Express.

The project involves the integration and testing of the Merlin Pilot system on the aircraft. Within a year, flight demonstrations of unmanned capabilities should be conducted.

It is also a long-term partnership with the Logistics Command and the Air Mobility Command.

Work on the integration of the Merlin Pilot system on the KC-135 Stratotanker will be carried out in stages:

  • starting with reducing crew workload;
  • proceeding to reduced-crew operations.

The program will serve as the basis for the next-generation aerial refueling system and reflects the Air Force's commitment to developing autonomous technologies.

According to Merlin, the first series of flights will include basic aerial refueling operations.

"The KC-135 would be the sixth aircraft to be equipped with Merlin Pilot, along with the Beechcraft King Air, De Havilland Canada Twin Otter, Cessna Caravan, Rutan Long-EZ and Cozy Mark IV. Last year, Merlin conducted a flight-test programme in Alaska in collaboration with Everts Air Cargo and the University of Alaska Fairbanks, which operates an uncrewed aircraft systems test site," the agency writes.

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