Bristow Group has signed a letter of intent with California-based aircraft developer Elroy Air for the pre-order of 100 Chaparral hybrid-electric cargo VTOL aircraft.
The Chaparral will be the first of its kind VTOL aircraft dedicated to cargo movement to be introduced into Bristow's aircraft fleet. Bristow plans to use it to serve logistics, healthcare and energy applications. Additionally, the Chaparral provides a solution to challenges that helicopter operators are facing across the world, including reducing emissions, by introducing the hybrid-electric powertrain and helping offset the pilot shortage through autonomous aircraft for cargo operations.
“Leveraging our expertise as both a helicopter and unmanned aircraft system (UAS) operator, we plan to use the Elroy Air Chaparral aircraft to fill an increasing demand for the movement of time-sensitive cargo for logistics, healthcare and energy applications,” says executive vice president and chief transformation officer Dave Stepanek. “Bristow has more than 70 years of experience moving people and cargo. We expect to leverage that experience to usher in a new era of vertical lift operations and meet the express shipping cargo needs in cities and regions without relying on existing or new airport infrastructure.”
The first production version of the Chaparral will carry 136 to 226 kg of cargo over a 300 mile range with its hybrid-electric powertrain and simple, redundant vertical and forward-flight propulsors. Goods are loaded into an underslung pod that latches to the fuselage and can autonomously be picked up and dropped off in a 50 ft landing square.
The Chaparral is the flying part of an integrated, high throughput autonomous aerial logistics system. The vehicle can land, deposit cargo, pick up another load and take off again, all in just a few minutes and without operator interaction. Although operated autonomously, the Chaparral can also be remotely piloted to comply with civil aviation authorities and airspace integration policy.
“The response and excitement around the Chaparral and the problems it can address have been amazing over these last few months since we unveiled the aircraft,” says Elroy Air VP of business development and strategy Kofi Asante. “The Chaparral was built for the challenges we are facing today. Demand for rapid logistics is outpacing today’s infrastructure and the Chaparral creates a ‘fast lane’ for middle-mile logistics to an unprecedented range of locations that can serve remote, rural areas and can fly over rough terrain.”
To date, Elroy Air has secured agreements to supply 900 aircraft to commercial, defence and humanitarian customers. The letter of intent is expected to be replaced with a separate purchase agreement.