FedEx's newest cargo plane is an autonomous drone

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Testing out autonomous flight. Credit: FedEx

FedEx is trying out a new delivery tool.

Starting next year, the delivery company is testing out an autonomous cargo drone from Bay Area aircraft startup Elroy Air. The hybrid-electric vertical take-off and landing plane (that means it doesn't need a runaway and is more like a helicopter) will take packages between FedEx Express sorting facilities.

For now, the autonomous drone will stick with middle-mile logistics between FedEx buildings instead of dropping packages off at people's doors or picking up from merchants. Elroy was originally focused on autonomous air taxis for passengers but now is dedicated to autonomous cargo delivery.

The test flights are expected to start mid-2023 on Elroy Air's Chaparral autonomous aircraft, which can handle up to 500 pounds of cargo and deliver it up to 300 miles away. It'll fly at lower elevations and only have packages onboard, no people.

FedEx and Elroy have to finish the certification before test flights can begin. The Chaparral aircraft was first announced in January after a successful hover flight with a full cargo load in 2019.