Without fireworks, Aspen prepares for a one-of-a-kind drone light show on Ajax | AspenTimes.com

Without fireworks, Aspen prepares for a one-of-a-kind drone light show on Ajax

Great Lakes Drone Company's Matthew Quinn, in blue, tests their drones on Tuesday, July 3, 2018, at the Westin in Snowmass. As many as 60 of the droens will take to the sky Fourth of July night for a unique aerial show.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

In a perfect world, Matthew Quinn would pair his light show with fireworks. However, with fire danger as high as it is in the Aspen area right now, he’s hoping his drones will provide more than enough awe on their own.

“We truly promote actually mixing fireworks with drone light shows. That’s what we did at Niagara Falls; we did a combination of fireworks and drones,” Quinn said. “But, under the circumstances, yeah, this is a great alternative. You still get the aerial display. We can sync it with music. We can create different designs.”

In lieu of Fourth of July fireworks, the city of Aspen opted to bring in Quinn, who is the owner and CEO of Michigan-based Great Lakes Drone Co. and its drone light shows. Beginning at roughly 9:15 p.m. Wednesday, as many as 60 autonomous drones will take to the sky above Aspen Mountain and put on a show that is expected to last about 14 minutes.

At 7,000 lumens each, the lights can be seen from as far as 5 miles away. Although the choreographed show is synced to music, Quinn said you’ll only be able to hear it from Wagner Park in downtown Aspen.

“You’re going to be able to see it from pretty far away. We’ll see how many UFO calls we get,” Quinn joked Tuesday while testing the drones at the Westin in Snowmass. “It’s all autonomous. So even though we have like nine staff members here, there is only actually one pilot. And in all reality, there isn’t a pilot, it’s just the computer program.”

Quinn’s company is one of only three in the country licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration, and they had to work closely with Aspen air traffic control to get permission for the show to happen. Globally, Quinn said they are one of only 10 companies that are capable of having a drone light show of this magnitude. Much of the technology, such as the swarming programming, is still new and continues to evolve.

Quinn also said Wednesday’s show will be the first of its kind at this altitude. The drones, which are about a foot in diameter, will rise about 200 feet off the side of the mountain. They’ll launch from the same location as the fireworks normally would.

“If the wind and everybody cooperates, hopefully you’ll see an eagle flapping its wings in the sky. We’ll have a few other patriotic things,” Quinn said. “We are going to show some love for Aspen and get a couple hearts up there. So we are hoping to have a lot of fun.”