Offshore helicopter operator Bristow Group has made another move to deepen its ties to the advanced air mobility (AAM) industry.
The Chaparral hybrid eVTOL aircraft used for autonomous cargo delivery has caught Bristow’s attention, with the company signing a letter of intent with eVTOL developer Elroy Air to potentially purchase 100 Chaparral aircraft.
With more than seven decades of experience moving cargo for logistics, healthcare and energy applications, this is the first time Bristow has added an aircraft of this kind to its fleet, but it’s not the first time the company has shown an interest in using AAM aircraft to carry out its business.
With most of Bristow’s business coming from transporting oil-and-gas personnel to offshore rigs and platforms — in environments with challenging infrastructure or rough terrain — the partnership with Elroy is a perfect marriage, said Kofi Asante, Elroy’s vice president of business development and strategy.
“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,” said Asante, adding the Chaparral was built to address current challenges, as demand for rapid logistics outpaces existing infrastructure.
“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,” Asante said. “We’re proud to work with the global leader in vertical flight solutions to create the future of express logistics.”
Bristow plans to use the Chaparral to sustainably move time-sensitive cargo for its logistics, healthcare, and energy markets without having to rely on existing or new airport infrastructure. The companies expect the Chaparral’s autonomous operations will also help offset the pilot shortage in the industry.
The first production version of the Chaparral is targeted to carry 300 to 500 pounds (135 to 225 kilograms) of cargo over a 300-mile (480-kilometer) range, picking up and dropping off cargo in an aerodynamic modular pod that latches to the fuselage. While the aircraft is intended to be operated autonomously, the Chaparral can also be remotely piloted to comply with civil aviation authorities and airspace integration policy.
The Chaparral features distributed electric propulsion, with eight vertical lift rotors, four forward propellers for cruise flight, a high-wing airframe configuration, as well as automated ground autonomy and cargo-handling systems. Its airframe is fabricated using carbon composite materials.
To date, Elroy Air has secured agreements to supply 900 aircraft to commercial, defense and humanitarian customers. Along with Bristow, its biggest partners include FedEx, AYR Logistics, and Mesa Airlines.
Elroy is aiming to type certify the Chaparral with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) by 2026, but expects earlier deployment in the defense sector and for international operations.
For Bristow to carry out its international work, Asante told eVTOL.com that Elroy is looking to certify the Chaparral in Africa and South America, followed by other areas — primarily those with rough terrain or challenging infrastructure environments. Elroy intends to turn its letter of intent with Bristow into a firm a purchase agreement, and deliveries for international operations are expected to start in 2024.