Drone shows dazzle, but for July Fourth, fireworks still rule

The unpredictability of fireworks — where and how each burst of dazzling light and crackling noise will occur — elicits a sense of wonder that captivates spectators.

“You almost feel in your chest what you’re seeing with your eyes,” said Kristen Lindquist, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who studies the psychological and neural basis of emotions, moods and feelings.

It is a tradition ingrained in the American psyche.

But as the country prepares for summer’s iconic holiday of barbecues and big booms next week, drone light shows have emerged in recent years as an alternative that addresses growing concerns about noise, safety and the environment.

Known for its biweekly fireworks displays during the summer, Navy Pier celebrated a gala in September with a 400-drone performance produced by Sky Elements. Rick Boss, president of the Texas-based company, said he only realized drone light shows could be a powerful storytelling medium when he saw a client tear up during one of his first events.

“Until you see one in person, you realize … it’s just a massive canvas that you’re painting on. It is just wonderful to see,” he said. “So that’s a big reason for it: Folks just looking for something different, something creative, something energetic to bring into their events … The drone shows allow them to do it quietly, allow them to (make) it environmentally friendly, and really gives a good ‘Wow’ moment.”

These aerial light shows use hundreds of individual drones equipped with color-changing LEDs and programmed to follow certain flight paths to create animations and images in the sky.

It’s now been a little over a decade since the first drone light show enthralled audiences at an open-air music festival along the Danube River in Austria.

“Twelve years is not that long ago,” Boss said. “We’ve had iPhones longer than we’ve had drone shows.”

While fireworks are far and away the choice for most July Forth celebrations, a few communities have made the switch for a variety of reasons, including poor air quality, trauma from gun violence like the mass shooting in Highland Park or high fire risks in Western states.

The industry has only taken off in the last three years, Boss noted. The market size for global drone light shows was valued at $1.3 billion in 2021 and is projected to reach $2.2 billion by 2031, according to Allied Market Research.

Last year in the United States alone, the consumer fireworks industry generated $2.2 billion in revenue and the professional fireworks display industry generated $500 million in revenue, according to the American Pyrotechnic Association. Experts expect the use of pyrotechnics this year will hit an “all-time high.”

“I would bet that the number of drone shows in Illinois has quadrupled in the past two years,” said Zack James, head of operations at Chicago Drone Light Shows and at Mad Bomber Fireworks. “It has quadrupled — but it’s still a fraction of what fireworks (are).”

Mad Bomber Fireworks has been selling pyrotechnics in the Chicago area for over three decades. The drone business became a “logical outgrowth” after members of the company attended a convention two years ago showcasing drones. They returned to Chicago and began experimenting with light shows.

“When we saw the technology, it was like, this is something else. There’s a huge opportunity for it,” James said.

Zack James, with Chicago Drone Light Shows, ahead of a drone light show over Oak Park's Scoville Park on Dec. 3, 2022. (Brian O'Mahoney/for the Pioneer Press)
Zack James, with Chicago Drone Light Shows, is seen ahead of a drone light show over Oak Park’s Scoville Park on Dec. 3, 2022. (Brian O’Mahoney/for the Pioneer 23 Press)

Causes for concern

Lincoln Square residents have long disputed and been divided over unsanctioned pyrotechnic shows during the holiday — flashy displays that year after year draw crowds to the sprawling 22-acre Winnemac Park.

This year, the park’s advisory council will debut a celebratory event with plenty of entertainment, but no fireworks for neighbors “who want a safer, nature-friendly way to celebrate America’s birthday,” according to a news release.

Russ Klettke, who has lived across from the park for almost two decades, last year rented air quality monitors from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to collect environmental data before, during and after July Fourth celebrations.

He rode his bike and strolled around the park in the early afternoon, a sensor attached to his backpack to make baseline measurements before pyrotechnics would be set off in the evening. He repeated the method between 7 and 11 p.m., capturing air quality readings as fireworks exploded at the park.

According to the World Health Organization, the short-term, 24-hour average concentration of particulate matter known as PM2.5 should not exceed 15 micrograms per cubic meter. PM2.5, fine particles equal to or smaller than 2.5 micrometers, are 30 times smaller than the width of a strand of human hair, so tiny that they can enter the lungs and bloodstream and be deadly to humans.

Source link


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *