Elroy Air's monster Chaparral VTOL drone is now in pre-production

The autonomous VTOL Chaparral drone can carry heavy loads of up to 500 lbs over 300 miles into rough terrain anywhere in the world.
Christopher McFadden
Image of the new drone.

Elroy Air 

Elroy Air has just unveiled its new, improved, pre-production autonomous vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) drone called the Chaparral. Described as “a hybrid between a rough-and-ready helicopter and a battle-hardened bush plane” by the company's co-founder Clint Cope, the autonomous drone could help deliver vital supplies to any remote area on the planet.

The Chaparral is a unique aircraft that can take off and land vertically, thanks to its eight vertical fans. It also has four swiveling propellers for forward flight. A hybrid-electric powertrain can travel up to 300 miles (482 km) and carry cargo weighing between 300 to 500lbs (136 to 226kg). The payload is conveniently placed in an underslung pod that can be picked up and dropped off autonomously. The Chaparral is specifically designed to fit into a standard 40-foot shipping container, making it a highly portable option that can be easily transported and deployed anywhere in the world. Its modular cargo pods can be pre-loaded by personnel on the ground and left within a 50-foot landing square for efficient pick-up.

“The Chaparral will be a vital logistics link for people around the world with unreliable roadways and in remote and rural areas that take longer to reach today,” said Cope in a press statement. In 2019, Elroy presented an initial model of their aircraft, which they have since refined. The company recently revealed that it had reached agreements to provide 500 aircraft to various commercial, defense, and humanitarian customers, with a total value of over $1 billion in demand.

The field of cargo delivery is rapidly expanding, thanks to the efforts of established drone delivery companies like Zipline and Alphabet's Wing. Along with delivering small items, newer companies like Elroy Air are also exploring the delivery of larger loads. The appeal of this industry lies in its potential for autonomous operations, which reduces risks to human life by eliminating the need for pilots and passengers. Additionally, the development of efficient electric VTOL systems has simplified the loading and unloading of cargo.

The Chaparral's main advantage is its ability to swiftly navigate challenging landscapes, making it appealing to military and humanitarian clients. Elroy has secured backing from the US Air Force and a request for 100 other crafts from AYR Logistics, which collaborates with aid organizations such as the United Nations and World Food Programme (WFP).

Elroy has garnered interest from military and humanitarian clients and regional airlines like Mesa Airlines, who are considering using the technology for express parcel and medical delivery purposes.

“We are increasingly seeing the demand for same and next-day delivery, but so many rural communities have been cut off from the national transportation system,” explained Mesa Airlines CEO Jonathan Ornstein in a press statement. “Pilot shortages and environmental regulations make this even more challenging. With the Chaparral, we’re excited to be able to provide autonomous cargo delivery to help reconnect those communities,” he added.

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