Elroy Air plans tests with FedEx for cargo delivery
By Paul Brinkmann|March 31, 2022
Company sees big cargo market for its Chaparral aircraft, but has no plans for passengers
While some advanced air mobility developers see carrying cargo as a step toward carrying passengers, California-based Elroy Air views airborne logistics as a market unto itself. Elroy could soon have a chance to demonstrate the capabilities of its autonomous rotorcraft, which is under development and in testing, in just such a real-world logistics setting.
Under a contract Elroy announced yesterday, FedEx Express will develop plans to test Elroy’s Chaparral autonomous air cargo aircraft by moving shipments between sorting warehouses.
Elroy conducted autonomous test flights with an all-electric Chaparral prototype in 2019, and has now developed a hybrid version powered by a combination of electricity stored in batteries and generated by burning gas. That’s the version that will be tested by FedEx following initial flights planned for later this year, said Kofi Asante, the company’s vice president of strategy and business development.
The company unveiled that version of Chaparral in January and says it can deliver 140 to 230 kilograms a distance of 480 kilometers.
Elroy intends to have the Chaparral prototype and planned production aircraft roll on wheels on the ground to connect with a custom-fitted cargo pod that’s been packed with packages prior to takeoff. Vertical-lift propellers get the craft airborne, and then cruise propellers take over.
“We want to stay super focused on doing a good job there, in cargo delivery, and not splitting attention with other priorities,” Asante said.
Because large networks of charging stations for electric aircraft don’t currently exist, Elroy decided to employ the hybrid approach of storing electricity in batteries and also generating electric power by burning gas to keep the batteries fully charged, Asante said.
Other AAM companies, notably Vermont-based Beta Technologies and its Alia aircraft, have announced plans to begin cargo deliveries while planning for passenger service in the future.
“We share ideas with others in this industry,” Asante said. “We team up when it comes to lobbying for regulation and things like that, because we all have different approaches but we’re all going to be dealing with somewhat similar regulatory issues.”
Elroy, which has raised $50 million from investors such as Lockheed Martin Ventures, also intends to leave “last mile” delivery to a customer’s doorstep to smaller drone technology, he said. Prior to starting the FedEx tests, Elroy will complete testing with the U.S. Air Force’s Agility Prime program for AAM technology.
“FedEx at their core has been a leading innovator in aviation, and they are always looking for better ways to be able to provide same-day, overnight shipping for their customers, so that fits our value proposition very well,” Asante said.