Elroy Air has unveiled the Chaparral C1 hybrid-electric VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) cargo plane. The aircraft is the first of its kind and brings never-before-seen unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capabilities to the rapid logistics sector across multiple industries. The Chaparral is a transitional “lift + cruise” VTOL aircraft with a full carbon composite airframe and turbine-electric hybrid powertrain for long-range mission capabilities.
The Chaparral C1 features eight vertical lift fans, four distributed electric thrusters for forward flight, and a high-wing airframe configuration. It was also designed to fit in a 40ft shipping container or C-130 cargo plane, allowing it to be quickly shipped and deployed anywhere in the world. An early prototype of the Chaparral was flown in 2019, demonstrating several key systems in the aircraft’s design, although the commercial design has yet to undergo field testing and evaluation.
Large load capacity
Elroy Air has developed lightweight and aerodynamic modular cargo pods that can be pre-loaded by ground personnel and retrieved by the aircraft before take-off. At the delivery location, the cargo pod is lowered to the ground and released after the system lands. The Chaparral system can pick up another pre-packaged pod and transport the pod to its next destination, creating what amounts to a two-way conveyor belt across the sky. The Chaparral can carry between 300 and 500 pounds of cargo 300 miles while only requiring a 50 square foot landing area to drop off and pick up cargo.
The company says it has secured deals for more than 500 aircraft from customers delivering express parcels and other deliveries to regional areas, defense and humanitarian businesses, representing $1 billion in orders.
“The Chaparral is an important part of the future of express logistics,” said David Merrill, co-founder and CEO of Elroy Air. “It’s designed for full end-to-end automation, and it will make express shipping safe and efficient in thousands of new places possible. It’s a delivery drone that’s faster than ground transportation and cheaper than today’s traditional aircraft.
Lots of potential
The Chaparral C1 is certainly an exciting development in the drone industry with multiple and seemingly viable use cases. Its versatility and multiple built-in system-wide redundancies suggest that it should represent a robust and reliable system. Although designed to operate autonomously, it can also be piloted remotely to meet aviation security requirements in certain areas. Although the company has secured strong support, contracts will only be fulfilled after successful field testing and design validation. Its potential to save lives by delivering emergency supplies, helping to fight fires, reaching remote communities and keeping pilots out of combat zones suggests all points to a bright future for the plane. .
Elroy Air is an aerospace startup based in South San Francisco, California, and it is backed by leading venture capital firms including Lockheed Martin Ventures, Catapult Ventures, Marlinspike Capital, and Prosperity7 Ventures, as well as by pioneering angel investors, including early Uber executives. The company also counts NASA, the US Air Force and the Navy as collaborative partners who are evaluating the platform for field deployment.