FedEx is partnering with Elroy Air to evaluate the use of an autonomous VTOL aircraft for middle-mile logistics operations. (FedEx Express)
FedEx Express, the regional subsidiary of FedEx Corp., has a new partnership agreement with Elroy Air aimed at flight-testing their autonomous vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) air cargo system for middle-mile logistics operations by 2023.
Elroy Air revealed its pre-production vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft, the Chaparral—which could become the first end-to-end autonomous VTOL air cargo system—in January. Headquartered in San Francisco, the startup has received funding from Catapult Ventures, Lockheed Martin Ventures, Marlinspike Capital, and Prosperity7 Ventures, in addition to various angel investors.
The new agreement between the two companies is a “first of its kind agreement,” according to the March 30 announcement from FedEx Express, which plans to test the Chaparral’s ability to fly shipments between its various sortation facilities. Joe Stephens, senior vice president of engineering and technology at FedEx Express, in the announcement said the air cargo operator 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.”
Chaparral is being developed with a hybrid-electric architecture and an in-flight rechargeable lithium battery to be capable of carrying cargo weighing up to 500 pounds with a maximum range of 300 miles. An early prototype of Elroy’s Chaparral was first flown in 2019. Today, the model possesses eight vertical lift fans, four distributed electric propulsors, and updated systems for ground autonomy and cargo handling.
FedEx Express is the second regional carrier to express interest in future operations of Chaparral, after signing an agreement with Mesa Airlines for a future purchase of up to 150 aircraft. Kofi Asante, Elroy Air’s vice president of business development, said the company is ready to help FedEx build “the next generation of express logistics. When you’re not limited by challenging infrastructure, traffic, or airports, logistics can reach more people, faster than ever before.”
Elroy Air first began working with FedEx in January 2020, and will continue to pursue certifications toward a goal of beginning flight-testing of the Chaparral for middle-mile logistics operations in 2023.