BREAKING: FAA Approves Disney World’s Nighttime Show Drones, “Flixels”

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The Federal Aviation Administration has granted Walt Disney Parks & Resorts permission for “Night small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS) operations” and “Operations of multiple small unmanned aircraft systems within Special Security Notice Flight Restriction Areas and Class G airspace.”

This FAA Part 107 Waiver allows Disney to fly multiple unmanned drones at night over Disney parks in the U.S.  Specifically, 14 CFR § 107.29, Daylight operation, is waived to allow sUAS operations during night, and 14 CFR § 107.35 Operation of multiple sUAS, is waived to allow a person to act as the remote Pilot in Command (PIC) or visual observer (VO) in the operation of more than one unmanned aircraft at the same time.

We first reported that Disney was seeking FAA permission to use this new technology back in January. Disney had conducted limited testing of its entertainment drone technology, dubbed “Flixels,” in preparation for incorporating these aerial vehicles into new nighttime spectaculars.  As part of the waiver application, Disney submitted example flight paths at Epcot and Disneyland, and noted that these flight paths are not over guest-accessible areas for safety purposes.

Flixels Epcot Flight Path
Flixels Epcot Flight Path
Flixels Disneyland Flight Path
Flixels Disneyland Flight Path

Flixels are to accompany entertainment at the Walt Disney World® and Disneyland® Resorts, including during each resort’s nightly Fireworks Spectaculars. Deployed from a monitored platform designated as the launch/land area in restricted access areas of each resort, Flixels will be “magically” incorporated into Disney story elements that engage and inspire children and their families.

The Flixels’ fleet consists of four, six, or eight propeller multicopters. Flixels operate within assigned subnetworks for communication to the ground and each other, where each subnetwork comprises five multicopters. Each Flixels weighs less than ten pounds. Each multicopter includes a special effects element (e.g., LED lighting), battery, and wireless signal receiver/radio. Flixels will flyslower than six knots groundspeed during a short (e.g., five minute) airborne segment. All Flixels flights are restricted to an airspace no more than 600 feet in diameter and Flixels’ maximum flight level will be no higher than 150 feet AGL.

Disney is also developing a related technology, drones with projectors and screens. In August, Disney was granted US Patent 9,405,181 for these drones with attached projectors and screens.

Projector Drones
Projector Drones

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About the author

Jason Diffendal

Jason has been a lifelong fan of the Disney parks since his first visit at age 2. His biennial pilgrimages during his childhood accelerated into semi-annual visits by the year 2000, when he also Joined the Disney Vacation Club. Luckily, Jason’s bride-to-be was also a Disney fan, which allowed his infatuation with the Disney parks to continue, and ultimately culminated in their wedding at Disney's Wedding Pavilion in September 2003. Early in 2007, Jason began his involvement with the planning for what became Celebration 25, the unofficial fan gathering to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Epcot®. Soon thereafter, Jason met Tom Corless at a pin trading meet in New Jersey, and became part of the WDW News Today podcast starting with Episode 17. Jason has been involved with the WDWNT Network ever since, and can't seem to escape no matter how hard he tries.
Contact Jason at [email protected]

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