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Drones in the Night Air Show — A First

August 2018 - The EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2018 night air shows were held Thursday, because of rain and the threat of severe weather on Wednesday, and Saturday. A new feature involved a hundred drones flying in formation. One element that surprised me was how three-dimensional it all was. Most of the aircraft in the shows fly along the flightline back and forth, mainly because of limits on when they can overfly the audience. The drones were able to hover as a group right in front of the audience and form up using GPS coordinates supplemented by a ground station that was keeping them all as accurately positioned as possible. Apparently the drones were custom built to be able to output 7,000 lumens of light each in multiple colours. Pretty impressive.

One can imagine the painstaking efforts required to plot every tiny movement for each of a hundred drones, their lights, their positions, and speed of transition to a new position. Imagine the steps involved: storyboarding the whole thing, figuring out what music to use, matching the beats of the music to the position of each element, and then plotting the 3D position for each of 100 drones for each second throughout the performance in 3D space (and perhaps figuring out how you’ll handle the odd drone falling from the sky)!

Here’s a short video of a segment of the show.

One of the best parts was when the drones formed up into a bald eagle and then began slowly flapping its wings. Very three-dimensional, most impressive. They also formed an American flag, a Rubik’s cube, a double helix, and a heart within a heart that rotated.

This was a first in our aviation world — a live air show that included a drone display, at night no less. No doubt we’ll see this again.

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