The fireworks are out, the drone shows are on this 4th of July

Drones with colorful lights will fly in patriotic formations over cities and towns across the United States this July 4 as a new alternative to fireworks — especially in the Dry West, where sparks can spark wildfires catastrophic.

Why is this important: Finally, there’s an attractive alternative to traditional pyrotechnics, which critics have hated for years (due to noise, pollution, injury, and environmental damage).

  • Among some fireworks enthusiasts, sentimental attachment is supplanted by pragmatic concerns: in Douglas County, Colorado, for example, last December’s holiday fireworks sparked grass fires on three launch sites.

Driving the news: As communities ban fireworks due to drought, a small but growing number are turning to nighttime drone shows as their flagship Independence Day entertainment.

  • Demand is so high that the handful of companies operating drone light shows say they’re fully booked — and have been for months, leaving many municipalities late to the table with no luck this year.
  • “We’ve fielded hundreds of requests that unfortunately we can’t take,” said Graham Hill, founder and CEO of, which does 10- to 12-minute shows using anywhere from 100 drones (“the entry level”) at 500.
  • Demand has been “exponentially greater than last year,” he told Axios. “If we follow the evolution of this, I just don’t think most communities knew this was a viable option last year.”

After rare winter fires devastated Boulder County, Colorado, several Denver-area towns rushed to hire Hill’s for the 4th of July.

  • One of them – Parker, Colorado – said in a statement that while he “recognizes the beloved tradition” of fireworks, he is trying a drone light show as a “year-long trial”. for 2022.
  • Parker described the show as “a new and innovative finale experience” that will run for 12 minutes and “feature multiple designs and choreographed moves from a fleet of drones to patriotic music.”

Among the places move to drone shows this year: Galveston, Texas; North Lake Tahoe, California; Imperial Beach, California, and Castle Pines, Colorado.

  • While drones are more expensive than fireworks – typically starting at $25,000 versus $2,000 for a small town fireworks display – they are presented as safer, cleaner and more customizable.

Between the lines: For most of the year, drone show companies cater to corporations and high-net-worth individuals, putting everything in motion in the sky, from corporate logos and QR codes to cartoon characters.

For the 4th of July, the shows feature traditional iconography: drones can fly in the form of the Statue of Liberty, Old Glory, and the Liberty Bell.

  • They can even simulate fireworks.
  • “What people can expect is 10 different formations that are all going to be animated, that can all light up and come together,” Hill says.
  • “We did Tetris in the sky and Super Mario in the sky,” he said. The effect is “like a big Lite-Brite – lots of different light pixels moving and forming”.

The big picture: The move away from fireworks is global: India and China – widely considered the birthplace of fireworksalso suppress their use. The 2020 New Year celebration in Shanghai included a display of 2,000 drones.

  • Intel was once the leader in aerial drone displays with its Shooting Star system, which provided an early demonstration of the technology at the opening ceremony of the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (Intel recently sold the division that ran drone shows.)

What they say : “Our aim … is to replace fireworks,” John Hopkins, co-founder of British drone show company Celestial, told Reuters.

  • “We love fireworks, but they blow things up, they’re single-use, they catch fire, and they scare animals.”

The other side: The fireworks industry raked in $262 million in revenue from public displays and $2.2 billion from consumer purchases in 2021, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association.

  • Drones aren’t yet a serious threat to the industry, the group’s executive director, Julie Heckman, told Reuters, and they don’t have the “multi-sensory” experience (the smell of smoke, the explosive crackle) and they are “pretty” but “nice”. boring,” she says.

The bottom line: Thanks in part to climate change, safety concerns have moved to the top of the list of fireworks issues, all but guaranteeing that drone shows will become a modern 4th of July tradition.

  • According to Hill, “With drones, a client can tell a story during a show, instead of just blowing things up.”
Tusayan, Arizona, surrounded by the Kaibab National Forest, avoids fireworks but welcomes drones. Photo courtesy

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