Lockheed Martin Ventures is among the investors who this week backed a $40 million Series A funding round for autonomous VTOL cargo aircraft developer Elroy Air. The funding will support the California start-up’s efforts to bring the Chaparral large drone into commercial service for a variety of middle-mile express delivery and defense logistics applications.
The funding round takes the total capital raised by Elroy to $48 million. It was also supported by Marlinspike Capital and Prosperity7 Ventures, along with existing backers including Catapult Ventures, Diamond Stream Partners, Side X Side Management, Shield Capital Partners, and Precursor Ventures.
The San Francisco-based company recently appointed Jay Wakenshaw as chief operating officer, who joins co-founders Dave Merrill and Clint Cope on the Elroy leadership team. He has previously held senior roles with a number of private equity companies and also aerospace groups, including GKN, Ascent, and Toray Advanced Composites.
The Chaparral is expected to be able to carry between 300 and 500 pounds of cargo on trips of up to 300 miles. The aircraft will not only be operated autonomously in flight, but all loading and unloading operations will be fully autonomous as well.
“This funding propels us into an exciting new stage of our business,” said Merrill, who is the company’s CEO. “We’re going to complete the build of full-capability, pre-production aircraft, advance our certification programs, secure key supply chain partnerships, and enter into flight-test operations in collaboration with our partners in the Naval Postgraduate School and the U.S. Air Force.”
In addition to commercial freight operations, Elroy Air also sees scope for the Chaparral to support humanitarian relief efforts, disaster management operations, and also logistics for industries such as energy and mining. The company believes there is a higher potential return on investment from deploying larger, longer-range drones that can support heavier-payload, middle-mile logistics services.
“Rapid logistics has exponentially grown over the last couple of years,” commented Elroy’s vice president for business development and strategy Kofi Asante. “We believe that building an autonomous VTOL logistics system that does not require additional infrastructure can play a vital role in enabling rapid delivery for commercial, defense, and humanitarian logistics.”
According to Marlinspike Capital CEO Neil Keegan, Elroy got the attention of he and his partners through its involvement in the U.S. Air Force’s Agility Prime program. The company plans to complete manufacturing of the next Chaparral prototype by the end of this year and begin flight validation with the Air Force and U.S. Navy in 2022.
“We invest in the most promising dual-use technology companies, and the Elroy Air team is leading the field with its unique technology and its opportunity to revolutionize both the commercial and defense logistics markets,” Keegan commented.