The skies above the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex will be a little more crowded in 2023 when FedEx kicks off the drone delivery test it announced on Wednesday.
Starting next year around Fort Worth, the delivery company will test a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) drone from Elroy Air. This startup’s autonomous Chaparral aircraft, unveiled Jan. 22, relies on a gas-turbine power plant, which eliminates zero emissions as a selling point but allows for what FedEx expects to be a 300-mile range.
FedEx plans to deploy these winged autonomous aircraft for “mid-mile” shipments, meaning from one FedEx facility to another instead of dropping packages in front of customers. His press release says he started working with Bay Area-based Elroy Air in January 2020.
Elroy’s Chaparral flies with a combination of propellers and rotors, with 300 to 500 pounds of cargo inflated in a loosely canoe-shaped pod held under its fuselage. FedEx’s announcement did not provide further details on a possible extension of this test.
FedEx test flights will join a sky that has already seen several autonomous flight tests. UPS began testing drone delivery near Tampa in 2017, and the Alphabet’s Wing subsidiary began testing drone delivery around Christiansburg, Virginia in 2019 (with FedEx as a test customer).
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And Amazon, which pitched its drone delivery sales pitch to CBS 60 minutes in 2013, received 2020 operating clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct air shipments across the United States, but has yet to begin regular operations. Last week, Insider reported that a drone operated by Amazon, according to a redacted FAA report, crashed in Oregon and set fire to a field.
FedEx has also joined the ranks of logistics services evaluating the delivery of autonomous vehicles in the field. Last April, he kicked off test drives of battery-electric autonomous robots from Mountain View-based Nuro; these vehicles roughly the size of a golf cart run on four tires to ship packages to customers.
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