January 26, 2022
Elroy Air, which is developing an end-to-end autonomous vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aerial cargo system, has unveiled its pre-production Chaparral aircraft. The Chaparral can autonomously pick up 300 to 500 pounds of cargo and deliver it by air up to 300 miles, pushing beyond the limits of delivery drones and the airport infrastructure needed for piloted air cargo operations, the company said. The system is designed for commercial, humanitarian and defense logistics processes.
“Today, we are proud to unveil the Chaparral, a first-of-kind autonomous air cargo system that builds on the more than 100 years of American aviation and aircraft development history,” said David Merrill, co-founder and CEO of Elroy Air. “The Chaparral is an important part of the future of express logistics. It is built for full end-to-end automation, and it will safely and efficiently make express shipping possible in thousands of new places. It’s a delivery drone that’s faster than ground transport and lower cost than today’s traditional aircraft.”
The company said it secured agreements for more than 500 aircraft from commercial, defense and humanitarian customers that amount to more than $1 billion in aircraft demand. Mesa Airlines, an American regional airline operating large fleets on behalf of partners such as American Airlines, United Airlines, and DHL, is expected to order 150 aircraft, Elroy Air said.
“We’ve always been at the forefront of aviation technology and we’re proud to be at the cutting-edge of this next chapter in partnership with Elroy Air,” said Jonathan Ornstein, chairman and CEO of Mesa Airlines. “I think one of the reasons why this is a moment to deploy the Chaparral system is that the market really requires it. We’re not even creating a market. We are answering a demand that exists in the market today that is currently unanswered. We are increasingly seeing the demand for same and next-day delivery, but so many rural communities have been cut off from the national transportation system. Pilot shortages and environmental regulations make this even more challenging. With the Chaparral, we’re excited to be able to provide autonomous cargo delivery to help reconnect those communities.”
In addition, the company has been working with the U.S. Air Force through an existing Phase 3 SBIR contract of $1.7 million, and AYR Logistics, an aircraft owner and operator that provides logistics support to the humanitarian community in more than 45 countries.
“We have designed an aircraft that behaves like a hybrid between a rough-and-ready helicopter and a battle-hardened bush plane, that can pick up cargo up anywhere with a 50 square foot landing area,” said Clint Cope, co-founder and president of Elroy Air. “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.”
An early prototype of the Chaparral was flown in 2019, demonstrating several key systems of the aircraft design. The latest Chaparral system 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.
The Chaparral is a transitioning “lift + cruise” VTOL aircraft with a full carbon composite airframe, and a turbine-based hybrid-electric powertrain for long-range mission capabilities. It was also designed to fit in a 40-foot shipping container or C-130 cargo aircraft, enabling it to be quickly shipped and deployed anywhere in the world.
Elroy Air has also developed lightweight, aerodynamic modular cargo pods that can be pre-loaded by ground personnel and picked up by the aircraft before takeoff. At the delivery location, the cargo pod is lowered to the ground and released after the system has landed. The Chaparral system can retrieve another pre-packed pod and transport the pod to its next destination, creating a bi-directional conveyor belt through the sky.
For more details on the company and its technology, visit the Elroy Air website here.