Though we’ve known about Disney’s currently in-development drone program for some time, some new details about this exciting new technology have recently come to light thanks to a recently filed application from The Walt Disney Company. This application is for an exception to FAA rules in order to use these specially-made drones for entertainment purposes specifically at Walt Disney World.
While this application wasn’t made public immediately, in recent days some very interesting details from the 42-page filing have surfaced online that reveal some important specifications about this program and a few hints about how these drones could be used to great effect at both new and existing attractions at Walt Disney World.
1. These aren’t just any old drones
There are plenty of different types of drones out there, from huge, super-tough military grade machines all the way down to small lightweight, consumer-grade drones that are primarily used by elementary school children to annoy neighbors at Christmastime. Though there are plenty of types of pre-fabricated drones, in typical Disney fashion, the Imagineers behind this project have decided that rather than use an existing design for these drones, they would instead develop their own, proprietary type of drone.
Known as a Flexel, this brand new type of drone has been designed to be extremely light, with each unit weighing in at less than 10 pounds. This drone's short stature and frame means it is quite versatile, but this flexibility comes at a price: it can't go any higher than 150 feet above ground level. According to the filing, the Flexel’s airspace would be no more than 600 feet in diameter, and the maximum flight time for any single drone would be less than 10 minutes (which probably has something to do with battery power) rather than design.
Another issue that the filing mentions that is likely due to the Flexel drone system's lightweight frame, is the fact that these units can not not be operated unless constant wind speeds are less than 10 mph and gusts are less than 15 mph. While central Florida isn't exactly known for massive wind gusts, this could be a problem if Disney ever wants to use this system at the much breezier Disneyland Resort in California. Though the current FAA filing only mentions Walt Disney World, we can't imagine that Disney wouldn't want to use this new technology at all of its parks at some point.
2. They will be used for some type of nighttime entertainment
Though there are plenty of practical applications for these newly-invented Flixels, the filing alludes to a plan to use these drones primarily to bring characters to life during some of Walt Disney World's nightly spectaculars. According to excerpts from these documents, each evening show that uses these drones would involve as many as 50 individual devices with each controlled by an automated computer system with safety switches and overrides that Cast Members can use to shut these drones down automatically if they go off track or come too close to the audience.
Another safety consideration mentioned in the filing is a requirement that guests must be at least 100 feet away. Though this certainly makes sense from a safety standpoint, it does limits the possibilities for use at the Magic Kingdom, as guests pack in very tightly during the evening Wishes spectacular.
Though it’d be close, a possible application for this new drone system for an existing show could be for Fantasmic! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. While the water area would be off limits, these drones could potentially be used towards the rear of the performing area (or possibly backstage), to fill the air with characters from Mickey's dreams and nightmares.
However, though we'd love to see this drone system used to reinvigorate Fantasmic! the most likely use for these drones (at least in the next few years) will probably be the rumored replacement for Illuminations. Though Epcot's current nightly spectacular is beloved by many, whispers about a replacement have been making the rounds for the past several years, and when news of this drone project first surfaced, many believed that Disney was developing this technology expressly for a new show at Epcot. These new filings seem to back that up, especially since all the safety considerations would be easily met around the World Showcase lagoon.
While it's exciting to consider the possibilities of a new show at Epcot, considering this technology is still very new, if this rumor proves true we wouldn't expect an announcement until later this year or possibly even next year.