At FlightShows, we live and breathe drones. As the leading provider of aerial light displays in the UK, we fully immerse ourselves into the realm of drone technology, specialising in creating breathtaking light displays that redefine the boundaries of visual storytelling.

In this article, we are going to explore what exactly drones are and unravel the technology behind their flight to understand what makes these unmanned aerial vehicles soar through our skies. Let’s get started!

Aniella flying a drone

What is a drone?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a drone is an ‘aircraft without a pilot that is controlled by someone on the ground’. Otherwise known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), drones were originally developed for the military, but have found their way into mainstream hobbies because of their versatility and adaptability. Often with additional features such as cameras and lights, drones can be used across a range of industries, such as photography and videography, surveillance and, of course, drone light shows.

How do drones work?

Drone shows in all weather conditionsThe fact that drones are able to fly without a traditional pilot is fascinating to people outside of the industry – and so it should be! This curiosity likely stems from the seamless combination of technology and engineering that enables drones to fly. From ensuring the weight of the drone is manageable, to delivering instructions from the ground, drone pilots must have a strong understanding of the number of different factors that can make drones suitable for different types of jobs.

Propulsion & Lift

FlightShows Swarm hoveringThe most important principle behind how drones fly is the generation of lift. Most drones use multiple rotors to propel themselves upwards. The faster the rotors spin, the more air gets pushed downwards, counteracting the gravitational force, and the higher the drone lifts.

In order for a drone to hover at one height, the force of the rotors needs to equal the gravitational pull, and to descend, the rotor speed should be slowed, so that the rotor force is less than the gravitational force. The speed of each rotor can be independently controlled, allowing for precise movement.

Some drones, often called helicopter drones, only have one rotor. These drones look like small helicopters, with a single blade on the top, and can be gas or electric-powered. However, at FlightShows, we fly quadcopter drones. Quadcopter drones are equipped with four rotors arranged symmetrically. One pair of rotors rotates clockwise, and the other rotates counter-clockwise, allowing for increased stability. The flight path is controlled by the speed of each rotor.

In contrast to single-rotor configurations, quadcopters provide a distinctive edge, especially in the realm of light displays. The strategic placement of four rotors not only ensures enhanced stability, but also increases the opportunity for dynamic movement and artistic patterns.

Aerodynamics

Aerodynamics plays an important role in both the stability and efficiency of a drone. Engineers carefully design the drone’s shape to minimise drag and enhance performance. Concepts such as airfoil design and streamlined structures are employed to optimise the drone’s aerodynamic profile, ensuring smooth navigation through the air.

Ground Control Station (GCS)

Ground Control Stations (GCS) are the central control unit for the operation of drones. These stations can come in a number of different forms, ranging from sizable desk-based configurations with multiple visual interfaces, to more compact handheld controllers. The GCS can either be manually operated (with sticks, for example) or used to upload an automatic mission to the drone (or drones in our case!). Its functions extend beyond mere flight control, encompassing the management of payload sensors, the provision of live telemetry data and mission planning.

In drone shows, GCS are used for managing the performance of the entire fleet of drones, allowing operators to control their movements, formations, and lighting sequences. It also provides real-time data on each drone’s position, battery status, and overall health, ensuring that drone shows are performed as planned.

At FlightShows, we use two completely redundant GCS systems, operating on two discreet radio frequencies, allowing full control of the drone swarm in the unlikely event of one GCS failing.

FlightShows Ground Control Station

GPS Technology

GPS Satellite

GPS technology is a crucial component in the flight of drones. Drones receive signals from satellites to determine their position and ensure that they stay on the correct course. These satellites help drones to follow the pre-programmed flight path, however the ability to manually change direction from the GCS means that pilots can easily manoeuvre their UAVs out of harm’s way if necessary.

GPS technology is also incredibly important in drone light shows, because it plays a vital role in ensuring the multiple drones used to create these images in the sky don’t crash into each other! We use Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) GPS – which can have accuracy of up to 1cm compared to the ~3m accuracy of standard GPS. This kind of precision is needed to create synchronised and visually stunning performances.

So how do drone light shows work?

FlightShows Logo in 100 dronesDrone light shows, also known as drone displays or drone performances, utilise a fleet of drones like we described above – with the addition of a bright LED light to create mesmerising shapes in the sky. Drone light shows combine technology, creativity, and precision to create breathtaking aerial displays that captivate audiences.

Want to see them in action?

A drone’s ability to fly comes from a combination of cutting-edge technology, the physics behind propulsion, aerodynamics, and intelligent control systems. As technology continues to advance, the future promises even more exciting developments in the world of drones, expanding their capabilities and applications across various fields.

If you are interested in creating a beautiful light display in the sky at an event and want to host a drone light show, contact us today to discuss your bespoke requirements or to receive a free quote.

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