2017-12-14 / Front Page

Drone Light Show Will Be Friday

St. Ignace Events Planners Want To Take a Look, Consider Adding Shows
By Erich T. Doerr

There will be a special aerial display in St. Ignace near the Mackinac Grille restaurant Friday night, December 15, at about 8 p.m. as a fleet of special hovering drones will take to the skies and light up as they form into various shapes. The St. Ignace Visitors Bureau is arranging the display in conjunction with the Great Lakes Drone Company to see if there is any local interest in more aerial drone displays like this in the future. The display is timed to coincide with an annual party for Visitors Bureau volunteers.

People who watch Friday’s performance will be able to give the organization feedback by calling its office at 643-6950 or contacting them through social media. One idea that was considered when the show was arranged was that the drones could someday augment or replace the weekly summer fireworks, but Visitors Bureau Executive Director Quincy Ranville said the usual fireworks will continue as scheduled next summer, and use of the drones is farther down the road. St. Ignace Police Chief Mark Wilk was the first to tell the Visitors Bureau about the drones.

Great Lakes Drone Company Director of Flight Operations Matt Quinn said the Visitors Bureau contacted his company to arrange the show.

The performance is to be about seven minutes in length. The drones can do shows as long as 15 minutes if temperatures are good, Mr. Quinn said, but their batteries cannot power them for that long when operating in cold weather conditions.

The display will include 20 to 25 drone aircraft. A computer handles most of the control for the drones autonomously with just one human pilot and three to four staff needed for the display. The company’s larger displays, including one themed after the history of flight it performed at Wisconsin’s EAA AirVenture Oshkosh air show, can include up to 200 drones at once. Great Lakes Drone is one of just three companies authorized to fly this many drones at once in formation. The others are Walt Disney Company and Intel.

The setup process for Friday’s display will begin Thursday, December 14 with preparation of a launching site. The company was looking at the expected tempera- ture and wind conditions for Friday’s show as they made their preparations. The goal for the program is have the drones fly about 100 yards away from the spectators to make the shapes made by their formations easier to discern. The display should be visible for miles, and Mr. Quinn said if conditions are clear, it is possible the show may even be visible from Mackinac Island.

The drones can be used to make all kinds of shapes and the local show will feature some of the basic ones, such as a heart, a cube, or moving circles in the sky. The lights on the drones can be synchronized to enhance their displays, such as flashing in a pattern to symbolize a heartbeat when making a heart shape. Mr. Quinn said their shows are highly customizable, and past shows have seen them do bird and balloon shapes in addition to corporate logos.

“These drone light shows are made to be synced with music,” Mr. Quinn said. “There’s different things we can do to match the lights to the music.”

Great Lakes Drone was formed in September 2016 when the laws regulating drones permitted commercial use. The organization was one of the first 10 in the United States ever authorized to fly drones at night for this purpose. In March, it became the third company authorized to fly multiple drones using just one pilot at night for shows like this.

The company filmed the St. Joseph North Pier Lighthouses while one of them was covered in ice one winter and the video went viral online. The company performed this year in Grand Rapids during ArtPrize and recently put on a show in Kuwait at the opening of a hotel. It also has coordinated a show with city fireworks in Watervliet.

The company already has shows lined up for 2018. Mr. Quinn wants his company to be more involved in Michigan, noting that only about a dozen companies worldwide have the technology Great Lakes Drone has.

The party at the Mackinac Grille for volunteers from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. is open to all of those who helped the Visitors Bureau to stage its events this year.

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