Performing Drones Enter the Air Show Arena


On Thursday, July 26 and Saturday, July 28, lighted drones took to the night sky for a synchronized aerial display at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. From spelling out “EAA” to forming the American flag, the drone performance dazzled evening spectators and highlighted the opportunity for drones in the air show industry.

“It was the first air show performance in North America or the world, as far as we know,” Great Lakes Drones Company Director of Flight Operations Matt Quinn said. “And, as far as we knew, this was the first time drones were integrated outside of a cage as part of an active ongoing air show.”
The Michigan-based Great Lakes Drones Company is one of only three companies approved by the FAA to perform and operate drones at air shows across the United States, with discussions about this particular performance in Oshkosh beginning in September 2017.

During the performance at EAA AirVenture, the drones smoothly transitioned into formations of multi-colored hearts, spiraling double helixes and various abstract shapes. Throughout the shapes and formations, each drone served as a separate light source that would transition between various colors, generating a “drone cloud” effect.

Although the company used a stock show featuring 60 drones at EAA AirVenture, Great Lakes Drones offers other performances that range from using 25 to 100 drones during a given performance. Each drone is custom built by Great Lakes Drones Company and measures one foot by one foot, weighing approximately three pounds and shining up to 7,000 lumens in brightness.

“Basically, what we tell all of our clients is that drone lights are about telling a story and what story you want to tell,” Quinn said.

With regard to safety, the drones are equipped with a number of systems that prevent the possibility of an accident. “The way we run our shows is a double redundancy system. So, all of the flight paths are stored on all of the SD cards of all the drones as well as the ground control station that runs the show,” Quinn said.

Additionally, the drones are restricted to an invisible soft and hard geofence boundary. If a drone crosses the soft boundary, its system overrides and forces it to land immediately. If a drone crosses a hard geofence boundary, the drone completely shuts down.

Previous articleReflections on Retirement from Bill Lowe
Next articleSafeguarding the Future of Our Industry
The International Council of Air Shows (ICAS) is a trade association dedicated to building and sustaining a vibrant air show industry to support its membership. To achieve this goal, ICAS demands its members operate their air show business at only the highest levels of safety, professionalism, and integrity.