U.S. Marines to Get Autonomous Cargo Drone Demo This Summer

The U.S. Marine Corps is set to witness a significant advancement in military resupply technology with the upcoming demonstration of an autonomous aircraft designed for logistical support. Defense contractor Leidos and autonomous aircraft developer Elroy Air have announced the approval to demonstrate their prototype for the U.S. Navy and Marine Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) program office. This demonstration is scheduled for July at the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Grounds in .

Cutting-Edge Resupply Technology

The Chaparral system, developed by Elroy Air, will reportedly be showcased during the upcoming tests. This aircraft is a hybrid-electric vertical takeoff and landing (hVTOL) cargo vehicle. Elroy Air claims that the Chaparral is designed for various purposes, including commercial logistics, industrial cargo, humanitarian aid shipments, and notably, military resupply. This summer's demonstration marks a critical step in the Marine Corps' efforts to enhance their resupply capabilities with advanced technology.

Features and Capabilities of Chaparral

The Chaparral system is a notable candidate for the military's Medium Aerial Resupply Vehicle-Expeditionary Logistics (MARV-EL) program. This program aims to develop “middle-weight” unmanned logistics assets that can provide combat sustainment to Marines when traditional methods are compromised due to threats, terrain, weather, or other priorities.

The Chaparral boasts an innovative design featuring distributed electric propulsion and a turbine-based generator, which powers its eight vertical and four forward propellers. This configuration allows for greater energy density and range compared to purely electric designs.

Key specifications of the Chaparral include:

  • Range: 300 statute miles (260 nautical miles)
  • Cruise Speed: 125 knots
  • Dimensions: Over 19 feet long with a 26-foot wingspan
  • Cargo Capacity: Up to 300 pounds, with modular cargo pods for versatility

Despite its size, the Chaparral can be reconfigured to fit within a 40-foot shipping container, demonstrating its adaptability and potential for diverse deployment scenarios.

Previous Achievements and Future Prospects

Elroy Air has made significant strides with the Chaparral system, securing three aircraft development and testing contracts with AFWERX, the innovation arm of the U.S. Air Force. Additionally, they have a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with U.S. Special Operations Command.

In 2023, Elroy Air successfully demonstrated Chaparral's autonomous capabilities at Travis Air Force Base in . These demonstrations showcased the aircraft's ability to autonomously locate, navigate to, load, secure a cargo pod, taxi, and take off.

Tim Freeman, Senior Vice President and Business Area Manager of airborne systems for Leidos, emphasized the importance of the upcoming demonstration, stating, “This demonstration will not only highlight the Chaparral's capabilities but also pave the way for broader applications across various branches of the military.”

Strategic Advisory and Future Plans

To strengthen its position and secure future government and defense acquisitions, Elroy Air formed a Defense Advisory Board in August. This board includes high-ranking former U.S. military officials from the Navy, Army, and Special Operations Command, who bring valuable expertise and strategic insights to the company.

The upcoming demonstration of the Chaparral system represents a significant milestone in military logistics technology. With its innovative design and autonomous capabilities, the Chaparral could revolutionize how the U.S. Marine Corps and other military branches approach resupply missions, especially in challenging conditions. As the Marine Corps prepares for this summer's demonstration, the potential for enhanced logistical support through autonomous aircraft becomes increasingly promising.

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Haye Kesteloo
Haye Kesteloo

Haye Kesteloo is the Editor in Chief and Founder of DroneXL.co, where he covers all drone-related news, DJI rumors and writes drone reviews, and EVXL.co, for all news related to electric vehicles. He is also a co-host of the PiXL Drone Show on YouTube and other podcast platforms. Haye can be reached at haye @ dronexl.co or @hayekesteloo.

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