Elroy Air’s autonomous eVTOL cargo aircraft has flown for the first time, the California-based aircraft developer announced on November 16. The hybrid-electric Chaparral C1 prototype performed its inaugural flight on November 12, taking off vertically from the company’s flight test operations center at Byron Airport, just east of San Francisco. It successfully landed without incident after a 57-second hover flight.
“This is an exhilarating day for our team and the industry as a whole,” said Elroy co-founder and CEO Dave Merrill. “On Sunday our Chaparral C1 became the first turbogenerator-hybrid electric hVTOL aircraft to take flight. This marks a major moment for the industry, as hybrid-electric aircraft enable the dual benefits of runway-independent safe redundant propulsion and long-range flight well in excess of battery power alone.”
The Chaparral aircraft is designed to carry 300 to 500 pounds (136 to 227) kilograms) of cargo to a range of up to 300 miles (480 kilometers). It features a fixed wing with 12 propellers and a distributed electric propulsion system, which is powered by batteries and a 150-kilowatt turbogenerator. The gas turbine recharges the batteries during flight, extending the aircraft’s range and eliminating the need to recharge the aircraft in between missions. Elroy has been flying with technology demonstrators since 2019 and unveiled the Chaparral C1 pre-production prototype in January 2022.
The company says its autonomous vehicle will transform air cargo services, not only because it can fly without a pilot on board, but also because it can drop off and pick up cargo robotically in a matter of minutes without any interaction with a human operator. The company has designed a modular cargo pod for its automated cargo-handling system, and it is working with FedEx Express to test the concept for middle-mile logistics.
In addition to FedEx, Elroy has signed agreements with several prospective customers interested in using the Chaparral aircraft for commercial, military, and humanitarian operations. The company claims to have an order backlog worth more than $3 billion, and many of those orders are already backed by cash deposits. Customers include helicopter operator Bristow, aircraft leasing group LCI, and Mesa Airlines. The company aims to make its first deliveries to Bristow in 2025.
Elroy has also received some funding from contracts with the U.S. Air Force, and the company recently demonstrated its autonomous cargo delivery system at Travis Air Force Base in California.