The measure of: Elroy Air Chaparral cargo aircraft
Image credit: Cover Images
FedEx Express is set to add a new transport mode to its cargo delivery operation – an autonomous drone.
California-based Elroy Air is joining forces with a leading express delivery business to test an autonomous vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) air cargo system in the USA.
Under the agreement, FedEx Express will develop plans to test Elroy Air’s Chaparral system within its middle-mile logistics operations, moving shipments between sorting locations.
Elroy Air unveiled a pre-production model of its Chaparral autonomous aircraft in January 2022, ahead of flight testing. The Chaparral is a VTOL aerial cargo system that can autonomously pick up 300-500lb (up to 225kg) of cargo and deliver it by air up to 300 miles (480km).
The system includes both the aircraft and the purpose-designed lightweight, aerodynamic cargo pod, along with the robotic handling system that picks it from the ground and unloads it at its destination. In principle, the plane could drop off one pod, then taxi to collect another for the next stop, without waiting for human ground staff.
According to Elroy Air, the Chaparral is capable of longer-range flights without the need for additional infrastructure, such as airports or charging stations, and only requires a 50 square foot (4.6m2) landing area. It achieves its range through a turbine-based hybrid-electric powertrain, using fuel to charge the battery.
These characteristics have attracted potential customers in the defence and humanitarian spheres as well as commercial cargo transport.
“We are proud to work with FedEx to build the next generation of express logistics,” said Kofi Asante, Elroy Air’s VP of business development and strategy. “When you’re not limited by challenging infrastructure, traffic, or airports, logistics can reach more people, faster than ever before. We look forward to working together to create a new future for how we get goods to people around the world.”
FedEx and Elroy Air have been working together since January 2020. They are now pursuing certifications and aim to begin flight testing in 2023.
Elroy Air Chaparral cargo aircraft: vital statistics
Cargo capacity: 100-225kg
Max take-off weight: 550kg
Electrical propellers for VTOL flight: 6
Maximum range: 300 miles
Fans for vertical lifting: 8
Electric propulsors for forward flight: 4
Approximate length and width of cargo pod (interior space): 2.4m x 53cm
Approximate height of cargo pod (interior space): 40cm
Cargo pods that can fit in a standard 20ft shipping container: 40
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