FedEx will test autonomous cargo flights next year

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FedEx plans to test a different method of moving goods between depots starting next year, which could speed up the delivery process. The company has teamed up with Elroy Air, which is developing a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) cargo drone, to transport packages between sorting centers via autonomous flights.

Elroy Air unveiled the Chaparral C1 drone in January. The company claims the hybrid-electric system has a range of up to 300 miles and can carry a load of up to 500 pounds in its cargo pod (so FedEx would need a lot of them if it wants to eventually replace planes). The drone has 12 electric motors and 12 propellers.

FedEx noted in a press release that the Chaparral C1 doesn’t need specific infrastructure like an airport or dedicated charging station. It added that adopting the aircraft lines up with its goal of making operations carbon neutral by 2040.

The companies have been collaborating for over two years and they’re working on securing certifications to use the Chaparral C1 commercially. All going well, the plan is to start test flights in 2023 in Fort Worth, Texas.

Autonomous cargo flights could enable FedEx to move packages between sorting centers more efficiently than by on-the-ground transportation. The Chaparral C1 is in a pre-production phase (the cruise speed is unknown as yet). If it works as promised, FedEx would be able to fly cargo by drone from Fort Worth to Oklahoma City.