Elroy Air was founded by Dave Merrill and Clint Cope in November 2016 to explore aerial applications which could be serviced by a large uncrewed aircraft system (UAS). According to Forbes magazine, by February 2019 Elroy Air had succeeded in raising at total of $9.2 million U.S. dollars. The Chaparral technology demonstrator made its first hover flight on Aug. 14, 2019.
The original plan was to create an air taxi vehicle but the company decided that developing an air cargo vehicle would be less costly, easier to make and would be able to clear government regulations faster which would ultimately allow their cargo-only aircraft to get to the market faster. As of 2019, there is currently a cargo pilot shortage due to airlines paying more than cargo aircraft which means the use of UAVs are needed now, not tomorrow. The company has stated that the global expedited cargo service as of 2019 is $140 billion USD per year and this figure does not include the amount of difficult ground transportation which the aircraft could replace with more efficient and faster delivery times.
The Chaparral C1 is an autonomous hybrid-electric VTOL pre-production cargo drone with one main high wing with four small booms which carry a total of 12 propellers and 12 electric motors. There are eight stationary propellers for VTOL flight and four stationary propellers dedicated for forward flight. The VTOL propellers are located on the underside of the booms. Each of these propellers are independently operated providing exceptional maneuvering in all weather conditions, including gusty wind conditions.
The aircraft is capable of carrying cargo that weighs between 300-500 lb (136-227 kg) and has a range of approximately 300 miles (483 km). The aircraft's fuselage is a rectangular slender aerodynamically shaped body holding the high wing, a T-tail and has fixed quadricycle wheeled extended landing gear. The landing gear straddles the cargo pod. The cargo pod is a lightweight aerodynamic shaped container that is loaded by ground personnel.
The cargo drone can land, deposit cargo, pick up another load, take-off again, all in just a few minutes and without operator interaction and then can fly to its destination. The cargo pod easily fits underneath the fuselage because the aircraft has extended landing gear. The aircraft can be manually pushed over the cargo container if necessary and can be wheeled around a hangar, a tarmac or landing pad. The big advantage of the Chaparral C1 cargo drone is it can deliver middle-mile cargo without the need of ground vehicles or airports and can deliver a variety goods to loading docks five times faster than conventional methods.
The company has made the aircraft so that it can be integrated to aerial logistics systems. It can be autonomously or remotely piloted to comply with civil aviation authorities and any airspace integration policies for new electric VTOL and hybrid-electric VTOL aircraft.
The company foresees the Chaparral C1 being used for commercial, humanitarian and defense logistics. Elroy Air has partnered with the USAF (Phase 3 SBIR, Agility Prime) and has a CRADA with the Naval Postgraduate School to better understand and serve the needs of the people in the armed services. Elroy Air points out their air cargo drone will provide reliable, safe and timely logistics, at a low cost and there is no risk to pilots.
Landing gear: Fixed quadricycle wheeled extended landing gear which straddle the cargo pod
Safety features: Distributed Electric Propulsion (DEP), provides safety through redundancy for its passengers and/or cargo. DEP means having multiple propellers (or ducted fans) and motors on the aircraft so if one or more propellers (ducted fans) or motors fail, the other working propellers (or ducted fans) and motors can safely land the aircraft.
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