It’s no secret that I’m a fan of all things Star Wars. I love Baby Yoda. Ewoks and I are kindred spirits. My favorite drone for kids is this Star Wars drone (and I had a hoot testing it). And of course, I’m the Drone Girl. Yet despite having covered this industry for more than 10 years, I’d still never seen a drone light show. That is, until I saw the Sky Elements drone show.
Sky Elements, which is a professional drone light show company based inTexas, has put on hundreds of drone light shows around the country (and has even done some international shows). But their most special show — to me at least — was their Oakland A’s Star Wars Drone Show held in August 2023.
It was my first ever drone light show seen in person — and it couldn’t have been better. Follow me throughout my experience of the whole afternoon and evening spending time with Sky Elements — from set off to viewing the actual drone show — right here:
What it’s like watching the Sky Elements drone show
After the Oakland A’s played the Orioles (and alas, the A’s lost), the gates of the Coliseum stadium opened and the audience was allowed to flood onto the field so everyone could sit on the grass and bask in a drone light show featuring 500 drone, each fitted with brilliant LED lights.
Once everyone had their place on the field, the stadium lights dimmed and the music started. A hush fell over the crowd as everyone waited to see what would happen next. Then, suddenly, hundreds of drones rose up over the stadium, expanding into the words “Star Wars” in the iconic font with opening crawl.
From there, drones took the shapes of all sorts of Star Wars characters and themes, including a 200-foot Darth Maul from Phantom Menace, BB-8 from the latest trilogy, Grogu from “The Mandalorian” and Ahsoka Tano from the latest in the Disney+ spinoff series of shows. All of it, naturally, was set to the iconic John Williams soundtrack.
The designs for the show were made in collaboration with The Oakland A’s and the Sky Elements team, which includes chief pilot Preston Ward and leader Rick Boss.
Perhaps most impressively is that only did the Sky Elements drones fly into shapes, but Sky Elements designs fully animate. That included an AT-AT lurking towards the stadium as a drone-lit snow speeder swooped in and tangled its legs with cable to bring it down. There was also a ‘battle’ between drone-lit versions of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.
And in this show, actually fireworks exploded too, such as when the AT-AT made its crash landing, and when lightsabers collided. Sky Elements says that was the first time that pyrotechnics have complemented its shows.
Sky Elements leads the nation’s drone shows
Sky Elements is one of the leaders for large-scale, U.S. drone light shows. The shows are controlled by a single pilot who uses software on a central computer system to program the drones to follow specific flight paths and exhibit various colors and patterns with their onboard LED lights.
Its portfolio includes the drone light show for Serena Williams’ gender reveal party and it even holds a Guinness World Record by producing 40 drone shows in a single weekend, which it did during the 2023 Fourth of July weekend.
The company has been recognized on the award-winning international level, such as having been a winner in the SPH Engineering International Drone Show Competition.
An alternative to fireworks
Drones are largely billed as an alternative to fireworks, which is perhaps unsurprisingly why the 2023 July Fourth weekend was so filled with drone shows. They’re considered more eco-friendly and they reduce noise pollution — audiences couldn’t hear anything related to the drones from the ground of the Star Wars drone show (at least not over the John Williams soundtrack). Of course, they’re also far more customizable — fireworks can’t explode in the shape of Baby Yoda, after all.
And for shows like this Star Wars drone show, the drones were the main attraction, but fireworks were sprinkled in for added flair. Yet even in that show, fireworks were used sparingly, still cutting down on pollution versus a normal fireworks show.
How Sky Elements set up the Oakland A’s show
For the Oakland A’s Star Wars drone show, Sky Elements flew directly above one of the stadium’s parking lots, which was blocked off to cars for the show.
While just one person “flies” the show — which in this case was Sky Elements chief pilot Preston Ward — there’s actually a robust team of people there to calibrate the drones, as well as to perform safety checks and lay them out in a grid for takeoff (those folks are generally hired contractors who come from fields such as film production).
That setup process takes a few hours — meaning the crew arrived long before even the start of the game. And because the Oakland Coliseum is located so close to Oakland International Airport, the Sky Elements team also needed to seek permission to fly in what was otherwise restricted airspace.
Drone shows take to major fan events
The show at the Oakland A’s game is one of an increasing number of drone shows brought in to cap off sporting events. In fact, just the week prior, Sky Elements flew another drone light show at the Los Angeles Dodgers stadium.
This isn’t even Sky Elements’ first time flying at the Oakland A’s Coliseum stadium. The Sky Elements team previously flew two smaller Star Wars drone shows with 200 and 250 drones. It then returned in June 2023 with a 300-drone Pixar-themed show, which came after another 250-drone Nickelodeon-themed show in August 2022. This latest Star Wars drone show in August 2023 was the most drones to fly over the Coliseum to date,
“Increasing the drone count to 500 was the next step in wowing the audience below,” according to a statement from Sky Elements. “With a higher drone count, the team was able to get much more detailed with effects and faces. A year ago, 500 drone shows for Sky Elements were an extremely big deal.”
The Oakland A’s Star Wars drone show also seized the opportunity to promote future sporting events. For example, at the end of the Star Wars Sky Elements drone show, drones flew into the shape of a QR code, which fans could then photograph and receive a link to a coupon for $5 tickets to the next Athletics game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. QR codes have been used for drone light shows in the past to take viewers to all sorts of web links, including one QR code at a Travis Scott concert that took audiences to an exclusive link to listen to a musician’s single.
Another reason why that 500 drone count was so critical? Sky Elements says they needed more than 300 drones to actually be able to create the scannable drone QR code at the end.
Why drone light shows are set to become more common
While drone light shows aren’t too common for now, that’s likely set to change. Sky Elements says that —— because drone light shows are still a relatively new form of entertainment — a big factor holding them back from being more commonplace is simply lack of awareness.
Other factors holding drone light shows back for now include regulatory constraints and cost. The cost of a drone light show from Sky Elements varies based on show size, but typically starts at $20,000 for smaller shows (with larger, more intricate performances unsurprisingly costing more).
That said, Sky Elements leader Rick Boss says that prices have already dropped enormously in just the past year though as the company finds ways to streamline its processes. Boss points to simplified show design software, enhanced show operations and efficient drone maintenance procedures as ways they’ve brought down costs. That includes an advanced ground station software system, which automates drone placement and flight readiness checks — which both reduces risk of human error and makes the setup process more efficient.
Another huge factor in Sky Elements cost is the cost to purchase the drones themselves. Sky Elements uses drones from UVify, which is a South Korean drone maker with headquarters in San Francisco, California. UVify makes all sorts of products ranging including the $200 UVify OOri Smart Racing Micro Drone. But its standout product is its IFO and IFO-S drone light show drones.
Prices for UVify’s drones can vary, but they currently sell online for about $2,000 each. At that price, the single Star Wars drone show would have featured $1 million worth of drones in the sky at one time.
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