Chaparral (Technology Demonstrator)
San Francisco, California, USA
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 production aircraft, the Chaparral C1, will fly autonomously and be able to pick up and drop off up to 500 lb (225 kg) and travel a maximum distance of 300 miles (500 km) in one flight.
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 UAS 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 technology demonstrator is an autonomous hybrid-electric VTOL demonstrator cargo drone capable of carrying 250-500 lb (100-225 kg) over a range of 300 miles (500 km). If the cargo is lighter, the range would be extended. There are six VTOL stationary VTOL propellers and one pusher propeller for forward flight. The cargo is held under the aircraft's fuselage. The aircraft has a tandem two booms between the wing tips and fuselage. The aircraft has fixed wheeled landing gear.
A Cessna Caravan, the workhorse of small air freight carriers, consumes 50 gallons (189 L) of fuel an hour; the Elroy aircraft will burn 3 to 5, (11.35 to 18.29 L) says Merrill. A Cessna Caravan can carry a maximum of 4,000 pounds (1,840 kg), but Merrill says a significant portion of package carriers’ flights aren’t fully loaded and potential customers have indicated that 500 pounds (225 kg) is a “sweet spot.”
Quote from: Before Amazon Drops Packages On Your House From The Air, Drones May Start To Transform Air Cargo, Forbes, Feb. 13, 2019
The pod is detachable so that the aircraft can drop off cargo and pick up ready to go cargo to make deliveries fast and allows ground crew to empty or load a pod at their leisure. This type of design minimizes turn around times for the aircraft with six propellers for VTOL and a pusher propeller for forward flight with a tandem wing configuration. The size of the aircraft takes up six car parking spaces. The aircraft could, for example, use its cargo pod to make bulk deliveries to larger plants which would manage home deliveries made by truck or a smaller delivery drone. It’s sensors include Lidar, cameras, and radar, along with an onboard computer running air-traffic management software that can be used to unload and load cargo remotely. If you notice, many of the photos show the VTOL propellers on the top of two twin parallel booms but according to photos, the propellers are located underneath the booms.
The company foresees that their aircraft could be used by UPS and FedEx for infrequent routes, rural routes, and complex routes which would be difficult to traverse by truck. Their aircraft would also be very effective for the management of natural disasters, delivery of humanitarian aid, and delivery of cargo to remote areas in the world including rural areas, islands and places where roads are not available or are difficult to travel by vehicle. The company expects their aircraft will be a fraction of the cost of a helicopter or current cargo planes and its target is to achieve 24/7 deliveries. Elroy Air’s current plans are to either sell the aircraft to cargo delivery companies such as FedEx or UPS or possibly to subcontract their own aircraft as a delivery service for these types of companies.
- Aircraft type: Hybrid-electric VTOL technology demonstrator cargo aircraft
- Pilot type: Autonomous
- Capacity: 0 passengers, cargo only
- Cargo loading/unloading: Autonomous
- Cargo size: Interior space of cargo pod approximately 8 feet X 21 inches wide (2.4 m X 53.34 cm) and 16 inches (40.64 cm) high. 40 cargo pods can fit in a standard 20 foot (6.09 m) shipping container.
- Cargo weight load: 250-500 lb (100-225 kg)
- Maximum range: 300 miles (500 km)
- Forward flight: 1 propeller for winged flight using pusher propeller
- Propellers: 6 electrical propellers VTOL flight
- Electric motors: 7 electric motors
- Wing configuration: Tandem
- Powerplant: Hybrid-electric
- Landing area required: Six car parking spaces
- Landing gear: Wheeled landing gear
- Distributed Electric Propulsion (DEP), provides safety through redundancy for its passengers and/or cargo. DEP means having multiple propellers and motors on the aircraft so if one or more motors or propellers fail, the other working motors and propellers can safely land the aircraft. Aircraft could land like an airplane powered or not powered if the VTOL propellers failed.
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- Elroy Air Chaparral Wikipedia
- Article: Elroy Air raises $9.2 million for delivery drones that can carry up to 500 pounds, Venture Beat, Feb. 13, 2019
- Article: Forget People, Elroy's Self-Flying Drone Hauls Heavy Cargo, Wired, Feb. 13, 2019
- Video: Elroy Air - Autonomous Air Cargo Anywhere, Elroy Air, Feb. 13, 2019
- Article: Before Amazon Drops Packages On Your House From The Air, Drones May Start To Transform Air Cargo, Forbes, Feb. 13, 2019
- Article: Autonomous cargo aircraft are bringing in same day delivery to remote areas, Freight Waves, Feb. 14, 2019
- Article: Elroy Air’s massive cargo drone completes its first test flight, The Verge, Aug. 28, 2019
- Video: Elroy Air Completes First Flight of 1200+lb VTOL for Cargo Transport, Elroy Air, Aug. 28, 2019
- Article: Elroy Takes Off, Electric VTOL News, Nov. 4, 2019
- Article: Elroy Air, Electric VTOL News, Mar. 30, 2020
- Article: Cargo Delivery Partner Joins NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility Project, NASA, Jan. 29, 2021
- Article: Elroy Air lands deal with Mesa Airlines, unveils newest Chaparral aircraft, eVTOL Magazine, Jan. 26, 2022