Elroy Air has announced that it has raised $9.2 million in a seed round for the Chaparral – its cargo ferrying drone which aims to lift 500lbs over a distance of 300 miles. Former 3DR employees David Merril, Clint Cope and their team have secured further funds for its new Chaparral Separate Lift Thrust (SLT) from Catapult Ventures, Precursor Ventures, Lemnos, Haystack, Shasta Ventures, Levitate Capital, 122West and Amplify Partners.
According to the Elroy’s official website the Chaparral will take off and land vertically, like a helicopter, using six rotors. A rotor attached to the tail will allow for cruising at a brisk pace. Chaparral neither needs a runway nor an airport nor does it require an electric charging station, thanks to its “hybrid-electric power-train”.
The cargo will ride in a pod attached to the aircraft’s belly. The Chaparral uses a grasping mechanism to grab the pod, winches it in until it’s snug against the fuselage, and then it latches on. This way, a pod can be fully packed or unpacked on the ground while the drone is carrying a full pod wherever it needs to go. The idea is to minimize turnaround time and allow for efficient loading and unloading while the drone is still in the air. The cargo pod will have interior space of roughly 8 feet by 21 inches width and 16 inches height, and is designed such that 40 can fit in a standard 20-foot shipping container, allowing for easy transfer to truck and ship.
To begin with the company believes the aircraft will fill a need for package delivery companies in the U.S., replacing trucks on rural routes with thin demand. Kofi Asante, Elroy’s director of strategy and business development, says the company intends to sell aircraft to package delivery carriers and to experiment with small air carriers subcontracted by UPS and FedEx that are struggling to sign up enough pilots amid a growing shortage. Elroy believes there’s a sizable opportunity to transport disaster relief supplies for governments and NGOs and to serve islands and remote areas around the globe where road networks are sparse.
Elroy is aiming to launch service first overseas in 2020. Merrill says initially the cargo drones will fly routes approved by the FAA and local civil authorities, and under the eye of air traffic controllers. Eventually, once regulations and traffic management is sorted out to enable flights in urban areas, Elroy hopes to expedite deliveries to and from cities as well.
“We want to be like the Ford F-150 of the sky,” Merrill told Forbes. The company pegs the global expedited delivery market at $140 billion a year, of which about $1.5 billion is accounted for by the small aircraft the Chaparral could displace.
Elroy has flown a sub-scale model to validate the design and is planning to start flight testing a full-scale prototype in the next few months gradually proving that the aircraft is safe, reliable, and as capable as the team says.