This Big Crazy Vertical Takeoff And Landing Drone Belongs To Toyota And May Run On Hydrogen

The exotic and somewhat mysterious unmanned aircraft was spotted undergoing testing at Mojave Air And Space Port in California. 

Jack Beyer

Mojave Air and Space Port is truly a wondrous place filled with cutting-edge aviation treasure. Case in point, just earlier today, aviation photographer Jack Beyer snapped a series of shots of a bizarre-look and remarkably large vertical takeoff and landing drone that was being towed across the field. The insect-like craft appears to have four horizontally-mounted propellers and one push propeller at its rear. These qualities, along with the high stance of its streamlined four fixed landing gear and what appears to be a payload handling system on its belly, point to this craft being a cargo hauler capable of landing pretty much anywhere.

See the update at the bottom of the post for the latest information on this highly intriguing flying machine.

VTOL aircraft, especially electrically/hybrid-powered ones (eVTOL) similar to this, which are based on personal mobility concepts, are one of aviation's fastest moving, but largely unproven sectors. The VTOL cargo space is somewhat narrower, with one company immediately coming to mind: Elroy Air.  

Elroy Air has created a system it calls Chaparral that uses a hybrid-electric powerplant and will hopefully be capable of delivering up to 500 pounds of cargo over distances up to 300 miles. It is meant to be able to operate independently of any air travel infrastructure and seamlessly within congested airspace using a variety of onboard sensors and dynamic flight planning software. The company has just joined forces with Embraer's forward-thinking business unit, EmbraerX, to further develop and potentially revolutionize point-to-point light cargo transportation.

Elroy Air

Elroy's design is similar to the one seen in the photos, but it seems more likely that the drone in question is a competitor's creation.

According to Jack Beyer, the aircraft was on the runway near where Virgin Orbit's Cosmic Girl 747 launcher aircraft was parked. It may have been doing some engine runs and once the activity was wrapped up, the strange craft was towed away to an area out of sight. 

Jack Beyer
Jack Beyer
Jack Beyer
Jack Beyer
Jack Beyer
Jack Beyer
Jack Beyer
Jack Beyer

The craft has some sort of heart-like logo on its tails which also may help us identify its owner. So lend us a hand, let's figure out what this aircraft is and who it belongs to! Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

UPDATE:

This story just got way more interesting. This aircraft wears the registration N871YT, which belongs to Toyota. A Redditor got a much closer look at the strange aircraft a couple of days ago. As one commenter notes, Toyota is working on a project with eVTOL outfit Joby, this may be related to that or another project altogether. It gets even more intriguing in that the logo on the drone's tail is the same as the one on their hydrogen-fueled truck program named Project Portal, which points to the possibility that this aircraft may actually run off of a hydrogen-electric system. 

UPDATE:

Here is the statement from Toyota following our inquiry:

"While we generally refrain from commenting about specific research programs, we will say that this program is unrelated to Joby or UPS. At Toyota we are creating better ways to move…across town or across the room. As we look toward the future, we’re also expanding our horizons beyond the design and sale of great vehicles to develop products that address mobility challenges for everyone. Future mobility concepts remain in the investigation phase and are being developed by a team of talented engineers and scientists based at the Toyota Motor North America Research & Development center. For the 5th year in a row, Toyota remains the automotive patent leader in the U.S."

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com