Could VTOL Cargo Drones Provide Same-Day Shipping to ‘Every Person on the Planet’?

One company thinks so, and it's secured $1 billion in orders.
Chris Young
The Chaparral C1Elroy Air

San Francisco-based Elroy Air revealed the pre-production model of its Chaparral C1 cargo drone, as well as a long list of customers, in a press statement.

The aviation firm ambitiously claims its mission is to "enable same-day shipping to every person on the planet." The main obstacle in its way is the world's regulatory bodies.

Elroy Air's cargo drone is '5x faster than trucks'

The Chaparral C1 is an autonomous VTOL cargo drone that uses a hybrid-electric system to carry payloads of up to 500 lb (227 kg) distances of up to 300 miles (482 km).

Though the machine was designed with the ambitious goal of same-day shipping for everyone, Elroy Air has yet to release any specific specs regarding flight speed. The company has claimed, however, that it will "deliver directly to loading docks at a speed 5X faster than trucks."

Though the Chaparral C1 features battery-powered propellers, it also carries a gas turbine generator that helps to keep those batteries charged. This allows for instant refueling and a longer range than most eVTOL drones, though the trade-off is that it won't be a zero-emissions machine. By contrast, German eVTOL firm Volocopter recently announced a successful flight test for its all-electric cargo drone, which will be able to carry 440-pound (200-kg) payloads over a 24-mile (40-km) range.

Elroy Air has $1 billion worth of reservations

Though Elroy Air hasn't announced when it believes its cargo drone will go into operation, the company says it has agreed to sell more than 500 units of the Chaparral, with 150 of those going to Mesa Airlines for express parcel and medical deliveries. Another company, AYR Logistics has made an order of 100 units with the goal of expanding the coverage of its humanitarian aid programs to hard-to-reach locations.

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Impressively, Elroy Air says the 500 units amount to a total of $1 billion in sales, meaning each unit will cost roughly $2 million. That's a huge amount of trust companies have put into a technology that has yet to be authorized to fly over urban spaces. It is worth pointing out, however, that Elroy Air has just been awarded a $1.7 million contract by the U.S. Air Force. With such backing, some might view flight certification as a formality by this point. However, the route to global same-day shipping might not be so clear-cut. Just this week, the United Arab Emirates announced a ban on commercial drones due to safety concerns following an attack by "explosive-laden" drones on an airport and oil facility.

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