Elroy Air unveils autonomous, hybrid-electric VTOL cargo aircraft – Chapparal
San Francisco-based Elroy Air, on Wednesday, unveiled its pre-production aircraft model – the Chapparal – fitted with the autonomous aerial cargo system.
The craft's USP is its end-to-end autonomous vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aerial cargo system. With this system in place, the Chaparral can autonomously pick up cargo in the weight range of 300-500 lbs and deliver it by air up to a distance of 300 miles.
David Merrill, Elroy Air co-founder and CEO, said, "The Chaparral is a first-of-kind autonomous air cargo system that builds on more than 100 years of American aviation and aircraft development history."
Explaining how the Chaparral can transform the future of express logistics, Merril said, "It is built for full end-to-end automation, and will efficiently enable express shipping in thousands of new areas. Essentially, it is a delivery drone that's faster than ground transport and lower cost than conventional aircraft."
Clint Cope, co-founder and president of Elroy Air, said, "We have designed an aircraft that behaves like a hybrid between a rough-and-ready helicopter and a battle-hardened bush plane. It can pick up cargo anywhere with a 50 square foot landing area. The Chaparral will be a vital logistics link for people around the world with unreliable roadways and in remote and rural areas that take longer to reach today."
The company has secured agreements for more than 500 aircraft from commercial, defence and humanitarian customers, and this amounts to over $1 billion in aircraft demand.
Kofi Asante, Elroy Air's vice-president of business development and strategy, welcomed future partnerships. "We are excited about the opportunity to partner with strong operators who have been servicing these three core customer markets for decades. The partnerships will focus on missions that aim to improve quality of life for communities by expanding express logistics."
An early prototype of the Chaparral flown in 2019 demonstrated several vital systems of the aircraft design.
The Chaparral system unveiled on Wednesday features eight vertical lift fans, four distributed electric propulsors for forward flight, a high-wing airframe configuration, as well as improved ground autonomy and cargo-handling systems.
Elroy Air's solutions aspire to expand delivery locations and reduce timeframes, provide immediate aid and relief in disaster and firefighting situations, as well as rapid, autonomous resupply for troops in the field.
The Chaparral checklist tick marks:
- A transitioning "lift + cruise" VTOL aircraft with a carbon composite airframe.
- A turbine-based hybrid-electric powertrain for long-range mission capabilities.
- A design to fit in a shipping container or C-130 cargo aircraft, enabling it to be quickly shipped and deployed anywhere in the world.
A "Bi-directional Conveyor Belt"
- Elroy Air has developed lightweight, aerodynamic modular cargo pods that can be pre-loaded by ground personnel and picked up by the aircraft before take-off.
- The cargo pod is lowered to the ground and released at the delivery location after the system has landed.
- The Chaparral system can retrieve another pre-packed pod and transport it to its next destination – creating a bi-directional conveyor belt through the sky.
Reaching rural, remote regions
Through its autonomous solutions, Elroy Air is developing industry-first autonomous aircraft systems and software to expand the reach of express shipping.
Mesa Airlines, an American regional airline, operating large fleets on behalf of partners including American Airlines, United Airlines, and DHL, intends to order 150 aircraft to serve the express parcel and healthcare sectors.
Mesa Airlines CEO and chairman, Jonathan Ornstein, said that the market is really in need of the Chaparral system. "The of the reasons why this is a moment to deploy the Chaparral system is because the current requires it."
He added so many rural communities were cut off from the national transportation system. "We are responding to a demand that exists in the market today that is currently unanswered. We increasingly see the demand for same and next-day delivery, but pilot shortages and environmental regulations make this even more challenging. With the Chaparral, we'll be able to provide autonomous cargo delivery to help reconnect those communities."
Expanding humanitarian relief interventions
Aircraft owner and operator – AYR Logistics – has also signed an agreement with Elroy Air to purchase up to 100 Chaparral aircraft to augment and expand its humanitarian logistics business.
AYR Logistics has over 20 years of experience providing logistics support to the humanitarian community in over 45 countries, including the United Nations and the World Food Programme (WFP).
Stephen Lyons, chief development officer of AYR Logistics, said, "Moving to unmanned, aerial cargo vehicles will make a huge difference to our cost structure and the risk profile of our operations. We navigate difficult terrain and don't always have the luxury of a runway or even personnel at some locations. The Chaparral is a quantum leap in terms of load carrying and range as well as being able to operate with minimal infrastructure.
Elroy Air Bags Tactical Funding Increase
Elroy Air was awarded a Tactical Funding Increase (TACFI) Award from the United States Air Force in Q4 2021, amounting to an additional $1.7M in contract value alongside its existing Phase-3 SBIR contract.
Colonel Nathan Diller said the Air Force has actively explored different approaches to modularity, different payloads and ultimately a way to reduce the number of humans necessary for logistical touchpoints. "It is exciting to work with partners who are passionate about building this new era of aerospace."