Why Drone Shows May Replace Fireworks, According to Experts

July 4th is upon us! That means barbecues, pool parties and…


While fireworks have been part of our nation’s July 4th celebrations for centuries (the Virginia Gazette dated July 18, 1777 reported on a “grand exhibition of fireworks”), there's a new aerial display wowing spectators.

This year, more towns and cities across the nation are replacing their fireworks with dazzling drone shows illuminating the night sky. The trend to include drones is growing in states like California, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico, where fireworks can spark forest fires and create environmental hazards.

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“In recent years, many municipalities in the Southwest have actually enacted burn bans to protect their cities from wildfires produced by fireworks,” says Tyler Kubicz, production manager for Sky Elements Drones, the largest drone show company in the United States. Over the July 4th holiday, Sky Elements is performing 50 drone shows. That’s more than 60% of all drone shows in the U.S. and a spike from just 12 drone shows last year.

“With battery life increasing, flight times getting longer, and workflows improving, the future of drone shows is looking brighter each and every day," Kubicz says.

Among the many benefits, drone light shows offer a quiet, more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional fireworks.

“We can recreate any image in the sky with drones. Drones produce almost no noise, allowing pets and veterans that may have PTSD to enjoy aerial entertainment, unlike fireworks,” says Kubicz. “Drones also do not produce debris or smoke, allowing for those with compromised immune systems to enjoy the show too."

For the first time, the city of Indio, Calif., home the Coachella Music & Arts Festival, is including a drone show as part of it’s Independence Day Block Party in downtown Indio on Friday, July 5.

“Celebrating Independence Day with our residents in a fun and inclusive manner was very important,” says Jessica Mediano, marketing and public information officer for the city of Indio. Their show will include a vibrant display of patriotic-themed visuals, from the Statue of Liberty to an eagle flapping its wings, ending with the Indio logo.

“The patriotic drone show ensures that everyone in our community can enjoy the festivities without the concern of loud noises,” adds Mediano. “Drone shows are also a sustainable option as they produce less pollution compared to fireworks, which can release smoke and chemicals into the air, as well as reducing the risk of accidents and injuries associated with fireworks.”

Related: What Fireworks Colors Are Harder To Make? How Do They Do It?

Last year, the city of Lakewood, Colo. had such a successful drone show, they are not only bringing it back but increasing it from 8 to 16 minutes. The show will include 300 cutting-edge drones with state-of-the-art LED lights in a variety of colors.

"Reactions to the show in 2023 were overwhelmingly positive," says Amber Thill, operations manager for the city of Lakewood. "The primary request through the 2023 event survey was for the drone show to be longer.”

To add an audio element, the city partnered with local radio station MIX 100 to provide a patriotic soundtrack for the drone light show.

And for those who still long for the boom, crack and pop of traditional fireworks, some cities are incorporating drones into their fireworks displays. For example, Nashville, Tenn. is adding drone elements to their epic Let Freedom Sing! Music City July 4th show. The performance will will be synchronized to live music from the Grammy-winning Nashville Symphony.

Related: 50 Songs About America to Add to Your Independence Day Playlist

Music City's pull-out-all-the-stops production with Star Wars and patriotic themes will have a captain piloting 400 drones from Sky Elements Drones.

“The fireworks show features spectacular 8-inch shells that will soar 800 feet into the sky and burst into dazzling displays nearly 800 feet wide. Over 1,000 floating flares will illuminate the Cumberland River, while ghost shells will appear in the sky as if by magic,” says Deana Ivey, president and CEO of Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp.

Get the scoop on drone shows, how they work, where to see them and how they differ from traditional fireworks shows.

What is a drone show?

A drone show is a form of aerial entertainment that features a swarm of up to hundreds of synchronized drones. Using LED lights, the drones fly in computer-guided formations to create aerial animations. Imagine telling a story with lights in the sky.

Are drone shows safer than fireworks?

Drone shows can be safer than firework shows. They are less likely to injure people because there's no open flame or explosion.

Drone companies like Sky Elements Drones, fly their drones from a safe, locked down area to protect from injury. "We never fly over people, including our own crew, and have security around the perimeter of the flight area, similar to a firework fallout zone," says Tyler Kubicz, production manager for Sky Elements Drones. "The risk of fire from a drone is extremely low."

Are drone shows better for the environment?

The environmental footprint left behind from a drone show is next to zero. Drones produce no smoke, emit no gas and leave behind no debris like spent firework shells.

Why are drone shows becoming more popular?

Drones offer a unique way to tell a story. They are noise-free, more pet friendly and safer for the environment. Fireworks are single-use, can spark wildfires and have been known to decrease the air quality. With drones, there's no after-event clean-up like with fireworks.

Are fireworks bad for the environment?

Traditional fireworks are made up of gunpowder, sulfur and charcoal and can explode unexpectedly. In 2022, fireworks started an estimated 31,302 fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Because fireworks emit smoke, heavy metals and chemical compounds into the air, they can worsen air quality and create pollution. A study from Atmospheric Environment showed that fireworks add 42 percent more pollutants into the air on July 4th than on other days. Also, the loud noises given off from fireworks can impact wildlife, like birds. The sounds can trigger them to flee which can cause them to be injured.

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