Elroy Demos Autonomous Cargo Capability To USAF

Wing and tail folded, Elroy’s Chaparral ground demonstrator is maneuvered on the C-17’s loading ramp.

U.S. startup Elroy Air demonstrated the autonomous cargo delivery capabilities of its Chaparral hybrid electric-vertical-takeoff-and-landing (eVTOL) aircraft during a U.S. Air Force mobility exercise.

Elroy’s full-scale ground demonstrator was operated at Travis AFB in California as part of Air Mobility Command’s Mobility Guardian 23, a readiness exercise focused on testing emerging operational concepts to cope with distances in the Indo-Pacific theater, including prepositioning materiel.

The demonstrator is representative of the Chaparral full-scale prototype that Elroy is preparing for flight testing. The startup says it has commitments for more than 1,000 aircraft and expects the first deployments to be for defense operations outside the U.S.

During the Travis AFB exercise, Elroy worked with frontline personnel to demonstrate loading and deploying the Chaparral from a Boeing C-17 airlifter. This involved stowing and deploying the wing and T-tail. The ground demonstrator also showcased autonomous taxiing, locating and picking up a cargo pod and delivering the pod to its next location.

The Chaparral uses modular cargo pods that are preloaded by ground personnel and autonomously retrieved by the aircraft before takeoff. On arrival at the delivery location, the aircraft maneuvers to the drop-off point using onboard sensors and powered wheels and lowers the pod to the ground. The Chaparral then retrieves the next prepacked pod.

Elroy says the event was an opportunity for its design and engineering teams to collaborate with Air Force aircrew and aerial porters to identify the best way to maneuver the Chaparral into and out of transporters such as the C-17 and to refine how to integrate the autonomous aircraft with existing Air Force logistics systems and processes.

The U.S. Air Force’s AFWerx innovation unit has an existing contract with Elroy under its Agility Prime program. AFWerx cooperated with the Travis AFB Phoenix Spark innovation cell to enable demonstration of the Chaparral during the exercise.

Graham Warwick

Graham leads Aviation Week's coverage of technology, focusing on engineering and technology across the aerospace industry, with a special focus on identifying technologies of strategic importance to aviation, aerospace and defense.