It is falling to startups like Elroy Air to drive the long-range logistics delivery service revolution. The company - featuring industry veterans from various high-profile companies like Google, Honeywell, and Uber with applicable backgrounds in engineering, aerospace, logisitics and the like - is accomplishing this through development of a Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) drone utilizing its "Chaparral" system. The drone completed its first-flight at Camp Roberts, California on August 14thm 2019 and managed a height of 10 feet during a 64-second long evaluation exercise.
The project seeks to have a market-ready drone in service as soon as 2020 with target services currently including medical supply delivery and humanitarian aid. These capabilities are not lost on military observers who also see the potential of such a system in reaching frontline fighting forces cut-off from support or operating in inhospitable terrain where manned rotorcraft can prove too costly/dangerous to arrange.
The design, in its current form, weighs in at a hefty 1,215lb and is driven by six twin-bladed lifting units, spread across outboard boom assemblies, and a single four-bladed drive unit fitted to the rear of the fuselage in a "pusher" arrangement. The mainplanes are set over the rear of the fuselage and are capped by upturned tips (winglets). The fuselage has been given a slab-sided look with rounded nose assembly and is used to house all pertinent operating systems including engine and avionics. A "reverse tricycle" undercarriage is used for ground-running in which the main wheels assume the bulk of weight distribution at the front of the vehicle and a single tail wheel is used under the rear. Slung under the fuselage will be a streamlined cargo pod.
Currently, the air vehicle is planned to carry external loads between 250lb and 500lb over a range of 300 miles.
Compared to rival designs, the Elroy Air offering is dimensionally larger with great capabilities and potential in the realm of cargo delivery over range.
The VTOL nature of the design lends the vehicle well to various industries where recipients may be hard to reach - as such it maintains the capabilities of a helicopter in being able to land virtually anywhere without the costs and dangers involved in operation of a manned rotorcraft system. In this way, the aircraft does not need the full facilities of any airport or a prepared runway to fulfill its mission and, furthermore, the hybrid-electric drive does not require a charging station. Flight is wholly-autonomous with safety features being built-in and the cargo loading/unloading process is being designed to be equally autonomous for a complete hands-off approach.
Only time will tell if the proposed market for such delivery vehicles "takes off" to earn its makers millions of dollars in high-profile partnerships throughout the logistics industry.
- X-Plane / Developmental
1,213 lb (550 kg)
1,764 lb (800 kg)
311 miles (500 km; 270 nm)
None. Between 250 lb and 500 lb of cargo (planned).
"Chaparral" - Base Prototype Name.