Can sky-bright drone shows replace our Fourth of July fireworks?
A question for the ages. Right now, there's room for both.
Technology has produced different forms of sky-lighting entertainment. Laser lights and drone shows haven’t completely replaced fireworks, but alternatives are popping up every year.
“Fireworks have a long-standing history in the country,” said Chad Stanley, vice president of Pyro Shows of Texas. The company has produced Addison‘s Kaboom Town since it began in 1985.
According to the American Pyrotechnics Association, in 2022 the display fireworks industry was a booming $400 million business — double from 20 years ago.
“Not to put anything down on the drones,” Stanley said. “They're pretty cool to see. But they can only do so much with the little tricks and things that they do.”
While Pyro Shows is strictly pyrotechnics and effects, Stanley said, they are open to working with drone operators if their clients want hybrid shows.
We love our fireworks
Illumination Fireworks, another North Texas company, is primarily a pyrotechnics business that established its drone division last year and has already presented around 50 drone shows, said Jennifer Burns, president of the company.
“We're not looking to replace fireworks as an option by any means, especially over the Fourth of July and especially in Texas, because that is what Texans expect and want,” Burns said.
But drone shows can be alternatives to areas with fire restrictions, she said. Last year, 80 percent of Texas counties were under burn bans, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service. Triple digit temperatures and weeks of dry air across the state this summer have increased chances for fire.
“As a company,” Burns said, “we had already discussed and decided to move forward with offering drone shows. The drought simply validated that we were moving in the right direction."
Three of her clients last fall needed drone shows to substitute for fireworks because of extremely dry conditions.
Your dog will appreciate
Drones have other advantages. They’re quiet for people and pets who don’t like big explosive sounds and pops. Synchronized music is a must at drone shows, Burns said, “otherwise it’s just very quiet and still and could be considered uninteresting.”
Businesses, schools, sports teams and concerts use drone shows as part of brand launches, pep rallies and special occasions. A fleet of drones — from 100 to 1000 — can choreograph into various shapes in midair.
At the 2023 Allen High School graduation, the eagle mascot was seen flying high above, thanks to a drone formation. At other events, winning raffle numbers, and even a QR code, were configured in the air. Drone shows pique people’s interest because they are new and unique, Burns said.
Drones are brighter than fireworks and can be seen up to ten miles away, she said.
The downsides are that drones only have 12-minute batteries so shows can be short. GPS and wind interferences can reshape formations.
Adding drones to a company’s roster is about a six-month certification process, Burns said. Plus operators need special pilot’s licenses and shows require FAA waivers. Nearby airports, police and fire departments have to be notified of upcoming shows.
Illumination Fireworks has had success merging the two technologies into a single show. Burns admits fireworks provide sensory experiences that drones cannot — the anticipation; the pops, bangs, booms and sizzles, the bursting colored lights; the acrid, smoky smells.
In North Texas, Illumination produced this year’s Irving’s Sparks and Stripes and Frisco’s Independence Day Celebration at the Omni PGA. The company has four other July 4 shows they are presenting this weekend.
Drone technology continues to evolve so the future may look even brighter for the industry.
“Yeah, they're coming”, Burns said. “And they're going to be great. You're gonna see them more than you than you think.”
Where to watch
Plan your 4th of July celebration with KERA's list of area fireworks, drones and festivals.
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