This self-piloting electric VTOL aircraft wants to deliver your online shopping

Elroy Air has revealed the Chaparral C1 hybrid-electric VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) cargo aircraft. The aircraft is the first of its kind and brings previously unseen capabilities to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to the rapid logistics sector across several industries. The Chaparral is a transitioning "lift + cruise" VTOL aircraft with a full carbon composite airframe, and a turbine-based hybrid-electric powertrain for long-range mission capabilities. 

The Chaparral C1 features eight vertical lift fans, four distributed electric propulsors for forward flight, and a high-wing airframe configuration. It was also designed to fit in a 40-foot shipping container or C-130 cargo aircraft, enabling it to be quickly shipped and deployed anywhere in the world. An early prototype of the Chaparral was flown in 2019, demonstrating several key systems of the aircraft design although the commercial design is still to undergo field testing and evaluation.

Serious cargo carrying capacity

Elroy Air has developed lightweight, aerodynamic modular cargo pods that can be pre-loaded by ground personnel and picked up by the aircraft before takeoff. At the delivery location, the cargo pod is lowered to the ground and released after the system has landed. The Chaparral system can retrieve another pre-packed pod and transport the pod to its next destination, creating what amounts to a bi-directional conveyor belt through the sky. The Chaparral can carry between 300 to 500 pounds of goods over a 300 mile range while requiring only a 50 square foot landing area to drop off and pick up cargo.

The company says that it has secured agreements for more than 500 aircraft from customers delivering express parcels and other deliveries to regional areas, defense and humanitarian businesses that represents $1 billion in orders. 

"The Chaparral is an important part of the future of express logistics,"  said Elroy Air Co-founder and CEO David Merrill. "It is built for full end-to-end automation, and it will safely and efficiently make express shipping possible in thousands of new places. It's a delivery drone that's faster than ground transport and lower cost than today's traditional aircraft."

Much potential

The Chaparral C1 is certainly an exciting development in the UAV sector with multiple and seemingly viable use cases. Its versatility and multiple built-in system wide redundancies suggest that it should represent a robust and reliable system. While it is designed to be operated autonomously, it can also be remotely piloted to satisfy air safety requirements in certain areas. While the company has secured some serious support, contracts will only be fulfilled on the successful field testing and validation of the design. It's potential to save lives by delivering emergency supplies, assist in firefighting, reach remote communities and spare pilots from entering combat zones suggests that everything is pointing to a bright future for the aircraft.

Elroy Air is an aerospace start-up based in South San Francisco, California and it is financed by leading venture capital firms including Lockheed Martin Ventures, Catapult Ventures, Marlinspike Capital and Prosperity7 Ventures along with pioneering angel investors including early Uber executives. The company also counts NASA, the U.S. Air Force and the Navy as collaborative partners who are evaluating the platform for deployment in the field.