The U.S. Air Force’s Agility Prime program has awarded a Phase 3 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract to Elroy Air. The contract, for which the value has not been confirmed, will support technical demonstrations and performance validation of the California-based start-up’s Chaparral autonomous cargo-carrying eVTOL aircraft, with flight trials due to start in 2021.
Agility Prime is collaborating with companies to accelerate entry into commercial service of new advanced air mobility vehicles that could support a variety of military missions, including logistics. The Air Force aims to be able to acquire aircraft that would be ready to achieve initial operational capability from 2023.
Elroy Air has been working on the Chaparral since December 2016 and made a first flight with the prototype in August 2019. The company has previously said it aims to achieve type certification for the Chaparral under FAA's Special Class 21.17 (b) rules in 2022. In 2019, Agility Prime awarded Elroy Air a $1.5 million Phase 2 SBIR contract. Based on flight testing conducted last year, the engineering team has been working on some refinements to the design of the prototype.
The hybrid-electric aircraft is projected to be able to carry a payload of up to 500 pounds on flights of up to 300 miles. Elroy says the autonomous operations will include both the loading and unloading of freight.
In January 2020, the program received a boost through a partnership agreement with EmbraerX. However, the status of this collaboration now seems unclear. When the Brazilian aircraft manufacturer launched its new Eve Urban Air Mobility Solutions division in October, it made no mention of work with Elroy.