Elroy Air partners with AYR Logistics to expand into humanitarian aid

By Jen Nevans | November 15, 2021

Estimated reading time 6 minutes, 49 seconds.

Providing humanitarian services to countries around the world is the next major goal for San Francisco-based Elroy Air, the developers of the Chaparral hybrid-electric autonomous cargo drone.   

Elroy Air Chaparral
Elroy Air’s Chaparral is an autonomous VTOL aircraft designed for logistics. Elroy Air Image

The company announced today that it is partnering with AYR Logistics, an aircraft owner and operator that provides logistics support to the humanitarian community, including the United Nations, World Food Programme, UNICEF, non-governmental organizations, and governments. Company representatives are at the Dubai Airshow this week to share details of their plan to develop an autonomous aerial cargo delivery service for humanitarian aid.  

Kofi Asante, vice-president of strategy and business development at Elroy Air, told eVTOL.com that Elroy is targeting the humanitarian market, which “aligns directly with our core mission to expand express logistics to places that are hard to reach.”

“More than a billion people are disconnected from reliable roadways,” he added. “That means if you were to use a truck, you wouldn’t be able to accomplish these types missions. We’re pretty excited about this idea of being able to provide essential goods without necessarily needing to rely on infrastructure.”

The partnership will see AYR Logistics commit to purchase up to 100 Chaparral aircraft over the next five to seven years to expand its humanitarian logistics business.

Serge Sergeef, CEO of AYR Logistics, said his company is particular about the cargo drone used in its humanitarian missions since its aircraft need to operate in challenging and remote conditions, often without basic airport infrastructure or ground support.

“We need highly efficient and cost-effective aircraft with excellent dispatch reliability that provide 24-hour, all weather operations, and perform vertical take-off and landing with pinpoint accuracy,” Sergeef said in a press release.

The Chaparral hybrid-electric VTOL is a lift-plus-cruise aircraft with separate vertical and cruise flight lift fans and a hybrid-electric powertrain for long-range mission capabilities, targeting a range of 300 miles (480 kilometers) and a payload of 300 to 500 pounds (135 to 225 kilograms).

Elroy Air claims to have developed lightweight, aerodynamic modular cargo pods that can be pre-loaded by ground personnel and picked up by the aircraft before take-off. The Chaparral delivers its payload by lowering its cargo pod to the ground and releasing it after the system has landed. The aircraft can then retrieve another pre-packed pod to transport to its next destination, creating a bidirectional conveyor belt through the sky.

Asante said its autonomous controls will also allow users to increase the number of trips, providing an extra layer of flexibility to deliver cargo around the clock without having to put a person at risk in a potentially hostile environment.

Elroy Air’s goal is to begin test flights for humanitarian aid in 2022 and receive certification before deploying its Chaparral drone for missions in 2023. With AYR Logistics operating in more than 45 countries in multiple continents around the world, there’s plenty of locations that Elroy Air can begin flight tests for humanitarian aid.

“A big part of this partnership is we’ll be working through certification in some of those regions,” Asante said. “We’ll be working on ConOps [concept of operations] to understand more about the mission types and how we can service these communities in a way that hasn’t been possible before. We’ll be starting a lot of that work very soon.”

Separate from the humanitarian market, Elroy Air’s go-to-market plan also includes serving the defense and commercial markets. The developer is working with the United States Air Force’s Agility Prime Program to help operationalize its Chaparral cargo drone, with flight tests planned in California.

This summer, Elroy Air secured $40 million in funding, bringing its total capital raised to $48 million. At the time, David Merrill, co-founder and CEO of Elroy Air, said the new capital will help prepare Chaparral for flight testing with the Agility Prime Program, as well as allow the company to grow its team. 

Along with the partnership with the Air Force, earlier this year, Elroy Air joined NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility National Campaign. According to NASA’s Starr Ginn, “The Elroy Air team impressed us with their innovative approach to automated cargo systems and technical depth in hybrid-electric VTOL vehicle development.”

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