Aerospace & Defence

Elroy Air's turbogenerator-hybrid hVTOL aircraft flight

20th November 2023
Sheryl Miles

Elroy Air has successfully flown the world's first turbogenerator-hybrid electric vertical take-off and landing (hVTOL) aircraft, the Chaparral C1, at its Byron, California test-flight facility.

This autonomous hVTOL aircraft features distributed electric propulsion and a turbogenerator-battery architecture, marking a significant advancement in the company's goal to facilitate same-day shipping globally and provide agile, low-risk resupply for defence.

First flight of the Chaparral

On 12th November 2023, the Chaparral C1 took off from Byron Airport, showcasing its turbogenerator system and high-power batteries. The aircraft achieved vertical take-off, completed a 57-second flight, and landed successfully.

Elroy Air Co-Founder and CEO Dave Merrill expressed his enthusiasm: "This is an exhilarating day for our team and the industry as a whole. In 2017 we had an unconventional idea to develop an autonomous long-range VTOL aircraft for middle-mile express shipping, humanitarian logistics, and military resupply. On Sunday our Chaparral C1 became the first turbogenerator-hybrid electric hVTOL aircraft to take flight. This marks a major moment for the industry as hybrid-electric aircraft enable safe redundant propulsion and long-range flight well in excess of battery power alone. Our accomplishment puts Elroy Air one step closer to delivering a transformative logistics capability to our customers and partners."

The significance of hybrid-electric aircraft

Hybrid-electric aircraft, combining distributed electric propulsion (DEP) and turbine-based electrical power generation, offer a versatile solution for vertical flight. DEP ensures robust and safe operations, essential for autonomy, even in the event of motor failure. Unlike battery-electric eVTOL aircraft, which are limited by battery cell energy density and require substantial charging infrastructure, turbogenerator-hybrid architecture can undertake long-range missions without the need for charging infrastructure, providing safe redundant flight for autonomous operations.

Advanced rotorcraft expert Ashish Bagai elaborated on the technical advancements: "The use of hybrid electric powertrains is not trivial – balancing battery and turbogenerator power output to respond to load demand requires power management systems that are properly governed to facilitate effective and efficient flight. Such systems for true VTOL and vertical flight capable aircraft are more complex and demanding than for fixed-wing systems because of the discrepancies in power requirements in different flight regimes. This is a major step in the development of hVTOL flight – one that underscores the potential utility value of DEP concepts. It’s very encouraging."

Team behind the innovation

Elroy Air's engineering team, led by Zach Lovering, an eVTOL industry veteran, has overcome significant challenges in electrical power management and structural vibration to bring the world's first hVTOL air vehicle into flight test.

Recognition from the Defence Sector Dr. Mark Esper, 27th US Secretary of Defence and Elroy Air Board Member, praised the achievement: “The team at Elroy Air has achieved an exciting milestone with the first flight of their Chaparral aircraft. Their work to enable autonomous cargo delivery for the resupply of troops in the field will create a game-changing capability for supporting and sustaining the United States military and allied forces in future campaigns.”

Demand and partnerships

Elroy Air's Chaparral has garnered significant interest from commercial, humanitarian, and defence logistics partners, with a vehicle backlog indicating over $3 billion in future revenues. The company holds active contracts with the US Air Force, reflecting the Chaparral's ability to meet urgent operational logistics needs.

Elroy Air Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer Clint Cope acknowledged the support received: “They say it takes a village. Without the support of our investors, commercial partners, and the Department of the Air Force’s visionary Agility Prime effort we would not be this much closer to making our vision a reality.”

Future developments

Elroy Air VP of Engineering Zach Lovering outlined the next steps: “This groundbreaking initial flight of the C1 will be followed by an ongoing envelope expansion campaign in coordination with the US Air Force in which we’ll advance the vehicle’s demonstrated flight capabilities through subsequent modes of airborne operations. These modes include expanded hover, system identification, transition, and cruise flight.”

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