San Francisco-based aerospace and logistics company Elroy Air has announced that it has completed its first full-scale system flight test, with the 1215-pound prototype hovering in the air for 64 seconds at the height of 10 feet, before a safe descent and landing procedure.
FreightWaves spoke with Elroy Air on this occasion, to understand the relevance of such a test flight in the future of autonomous aerial cargo delivery. “We believe high-performing logistics should be a human right as it improves quality of life. With this successful test flight, we now have the technology to make that possible in a lot of places that were previously difficult to reach. As a company, we develop medium payload, vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aerial cargo systems,” said David Merrill, the CEO of Elroy Air.
Elroy Air’s first-generation aircraft will have the ability to carry 250 to 300 pounds of cargo over a 300-mile range. Merrill explained that the aircraft’s primary differentiator with a conventional aircraft is its ability to operate from nearly any terrain, be it an airport, loading dock or a parking lot.
“Our aircraft can land and take off in any place that has a flat surface that’s about 50 by 50 feet. The goal is to expand the reach of express logistics, which makes it possible to surgically get the cargo in and out by air to places that are two orders of magnitude more than what is possible with a fixed-wing aircraft,” said Merrill.
VTOL aerial mobility is in vogue within the air cargo space, with several companies hard at work to develop systems that can carry considerable cargo over long distances. Part of the interest is due to the plethora of use cases that these aircraft could be subject to, of which connecting large swathes of the places within emerging economies is one of them.
Kofi Asante, the head of strategy and business development at Elroy Air, contended that over a billion people do not have immediate access to reliable roadways which directly impacts their quality of life.
“We believe our system is a catalyst to being able to connect many communities that may go for days without being able to get the things that they need,” said Asante. “The idea is to decouple infrastructure from quality logistics, and we think we can be a pioneer in that space. This test flight is the first step towards moving the world as a whole in this direction, in a way where we can positively impact many communities around the world.”
The test was the first phase of Elroy Air’s flight testing, with this phase intending to prove the vertical flight performance characteristics of takeoff, hovering and landing. Phase two will be about transitioning onto a wing-based flight and the aircraft’s ability to take up long-range missions.
“What we’ve achieved in this first phase is a validation of major parts of the technology stack that we’ve been developing here internally. The vertical flight mode involves the six large brushless motors, motor controllers, battery system and the autopilot, which is responsible for stability and vertical flight,” said Merrill.
Though the test looks to be simple on the surface, it represents the working of a set of sophisticated subsystems in tandem and enabling the first mode of flight. This process is critical to the aircraft’s overall functioning, and this test validates the takeoff and landing portions of all the eventual Elroy Air missions.
“We are now in a very small club of companies that have accomplished a flight demonstration of a system at this scale for cargo operations,” said Merrill. “I can only think of Boeing that has flown a system near this scale, but I still think ours is a bit bigger than the system that they flew in the past year.”