Elroy Air launches the Chaparral, an autonomous VTOL cargo plane

VTOL developer Elroy Air has just unveiled its pre-production aircraft, the Chaparral, an autonomous cargo drone with a range of up to 300 miles and the ability to carry 500 pounds of cargo. (Photo: Elroy Air)

Elroy Air last week unveiled its pre-production vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft, the Chaparral, the first end-to-end autonomous VTOL air cargo system. It is capable of picking up cargo weighing up to 500 pounds and making aerial deliveries at a distance of 300 miles. Elroy Air is headquartered in South San Francisco, Calif., and has received funding from Catapult Ventures, Lockheed Martin Ventures, Marlinspike Capital, and Prosperity7 Ventures, in addition to various angel investors.

The company’s CEO and co-founder, David Merrill, spoke at the Transformative Vertical Flight 2022 conference last week. “Our mission is to enable same-day shipping to every person on the planet,” he said, explaining that their system for moving goods directly to loading docks can be done at a much faster speed. than today’s trucks. Elroy Air Chairman and Co-Founder Clint Cope said: “The Chaparral will be a vital logistical link for people around the world with unreliable roads and in remote and rural areas that take longer to reach. today.

The Chaparral features a hybrid-electric powertrain, eight vertical-lift fans and four distributed electric thrusters, in addition to a modular cargo pod. (Photo: Elroy Air)

Chaparral development has been underway for two and a half years. It is an electric hybrid vehicle with an in-flight rechargeable lithium battery. The hybrid-electric powertrain offers range, reliability and flexibility. The modular cargo pod, Merrill explained, allows for rapid loading and unloading, and the aircraft uses LIDAR for ground navigation. “This modality will be faster than ground transportation with lower operating costs than today’s manned aircraft and better efficiency than today’s helicopters.” He added: “We design it to be used at a very high level – many hours a day – which was our motivation to create a separate cargo container that can be picked up and dropped off.”

Elroy Air has already agreed to supply more than 500 aircraft, representing a demand of more than $1 billion, to its customers, including AYR Logistics – which is seeking to expand its humanitarian logistics business – and Mesa Airlines, as well as to other commercial and defense customers. Mesa Airlines plans to order 150 aircraft to meet what it sees as the growing air transportation needs of the express parcel and healthcare industries.

In August 2021, Elroy shared that they raised $40 million in funding. Having now reached agreements for the purchase of its billion-plus VTOL, the company appears to be on track to continue its rapid expansion over the next year and bring further enhancements to the Chaparral aircraft. as flight tests and demonstrations progress.

Elroy last year announced a partnership with NASA “to accelerate and improve the safe integration of advanced autonomous cargo aircraft into United States airspace.” according to the ad. Using the Chaparral VTOL, the partnership will demonstrate advanced air mobility (AAM) operational scenarios. The FAA will also support flight testing and demonstrations for mid-mile air logistics.

“The opportunity is to dramatically expand the reach of express logistics, creating orders of magnitude more air freight routes that can operate to/from places that would not support air freight today” , said David Merrill. Aviation today in a recent interview.

Over 500 units have already been pre-ordered, which equates to over $1 billion. (Photo: Elroy Air)

The US Air Force awarded Elroy a Phase 3 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract with the Agility Prime program at the end of 2020, As part of the expansion of their existing partnership, Agility Prime will fund technical demonstrations and performance validations of the Chaparral aircraft. The Agility Prime program will evaluate the Chaparral for USAF use cases, and they consider the standalone VTOL capable of meeting both commercial and government needs.

An early prototype of Elroy’s Chaparral first flew in 2019. Today, the model has eight vertical-lift fans, four distributed electric thrusters, and updated systems for ground autonomy and fuel handling. freight. Sharing the company’s vision for the future, Merrill said that “by 2023, we expect to be flying commercially with customers, beginning full-scale operations and continuing to grow.”

Elroy also posted a video the unveiling of the Chaparral aircraft can be viewed here.