The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

FedEx To Test Autonomous Drone Cargo Delivery with Elroy Air

FedEx Express and California-based autonomous VTOL cargo system developer Elroy Air have reached an agreement under which the package delivery giant would test Elroy Air’s Chaparral autonomous air cargo system within its middle-mile logistics operations, moving shipments between sortation locations, the companies said Tuesday.

FedEx and Elroy Air have worked together since January 2020 and plan to continue their collaboration to pursue the start of flight testing in 2023.

“FedEx was built on innovation and we are always looking toward new technologies to help enhance the logistics industry through improved safety, efficiency, and customer service,” said FedEx Express vice president of global planning, engineering, and technology Joe Stephens. “We look forward to continued testing and learning throughout our collaboration with Elroy Air.”

Elroy Air unveiled what it described as a preproduction version of its Chaparral C1 VTOL cargo transporter in January. The eVTOL aerial cargo system can autonomously pick up 300 to 500 pounds of cargo and deliver it by air to a range of 300 miles without the need for additional infrastructure such as airports or charging stations.

“We are proud to work with FedEx to build the next generation of express logistics,” said Elroy Air vice president of business development and strategy Kofi Asante. “When you’re not limited by challenging infrastructure, traffic, or airports, logistics can reach more people, faster than ever before. We look forward to working together to create a new future for how we get goods to people around the world.”

The Chaparral features eight vertical lift fans, four distributed electric propulsors for cruise flight, 11 aero-surface actuators, and a high wing. Other key features include a high-voltage power distribution system designed for fault isolation, a redundant 700-volt lithium battery pack sized to handle generator failure, an onboard detect-and-avoid system, a command-and-control data link, Lidar systems for ground safety and navigation, and an ADS-B in/out transceiver.

A 150-kW gas turbine-based electrical power-generation system will provide electrical power for propulsion and recharge the onboard battery during flight, eliminating recharging downtime.

For loading and unloading, Elroy Air designed a proprietary cargo container and automated cargo-handling system. The modular cargo pod consists of a pallet and an aero-fairing cover. Freight is stacked on the pallet and strapped down before the cover is slid over and attached for flight. Operators can move the pod with a standard pallet jack and forklift, and the aircraft features robotic winching and latching for rapid loading and unloading.

Once the cargo pod is locked and loaded, the automated cargo-handling system comes into play. “As soon as the aircraft lands vertically, it is assigned a place to unload the inbound cargo, where it lowers and releases the pod,” explained Elroy Air co-founder and CEO David Merrill

Merrill during the Vertical Flight Society’s Transformative Vertical Flight conference in San Jose, California, in late January. “Then, based on its next assignment, the Chaparral automatically taxis to and aligns with the new container, picks it up, and secures it for the mission before taxiing to takeoff.”