Human Factors-Driven Innovation Enables Merlin To Add Pilot Workload Understanding Into Automation Systems

June 5, 2024
Merlin engineers recently observed pilots flying the KC-135 Stratotanker. Data collected during the flights is critical to Merlin's phased approach to autonomy.

Merlin, an aviation technology company developing the world’s most capable pilot to advance the future of automated flight, recently participated in data collection flights in the KC-135 Stratotanker at MacDill Air Force Base to better understand crew workload drivers and gather data to expand the autonomous capabilities of the Merlin Pilot for military use cases.

Conducted on May 14 and 15, the two flights enabled Merlin’s engineers to assess the tasks that pilots execute in-flight to determine where advanced automation capabilities would be the most impactful for safety, cost savings, and efficiency.

“The data collected during these flights is critical to our phased approach to autonomy, starting with reduced crew operations, and to materially evolving our advanced automation systems,” said Matt George, CEO of Merlin. “Being able to observe multiple aerial refueling flights and see exactly how pilots are focused on critical tasks like take-off, landing, and communications in operational military use cases has given us valuable insight into how Merlin’s technology solution can best support the Air Force.”

The Air Force is strategically integrating autonomy as a key enabler for global missions. With safety and efficiency at the forefront, Merlin’s technological advances are able to support the relationship between the pilot and their aircraft. During any given Air Force mission, a pilot could be focused on a multitude of tasks at once.

Operational mission responsibilities are extremely diverse and pilot tasks align to each given mission. Focus areas could be tied to humanitarian, surveillance, command and control, air superiority or many others. Learning about task priorities and complexity gives Merlin engineers insight into how to maximize automation and autonomous processes to allow pilots to focus on the most critical tasks at any given time.

Engineers conducted physical assessments, observations, and crew interviews to determine the physical and cognitive aspects of KC-135 operations that will be integrated into the Merlin Pilot in a unique manner. The data collected during both in-flight and simulated sessions is essential to Merlin’s ongoing collaboration with the United States Air Force, which includes demonstrating reduced crew capabilities, as well as to the ongoing development and testing of the Merlin Pilot.

In addition to the flights, data collected during two observation and evaluation flights and pilot sessions are to support an ongoing agreement with the United States Air Force (USAF) Air Mobility Command (AMC) and Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC).