Back in summer of 2014, Stitch Kingdom broke news that Walt Disney Parks and Resorts was working on an intricate system using controlled drones to supplement its nighttime entertainment, proposing to: use drones to control massive marionettes (such as an exampled Jack Skellington) and/or use drones to carry screens that could act as what they dubbed ‘flixels,’ or ‘floating pixels.’
In late October of 2015, Disney decided to move ahead with these plans by filing an exemption from the FAA under section 333 which governs the commercial use of drones. The application was published on December 31 and has not yet been answered by the FAA.
The exemption request defines the original plans further by noting that ‘Flixels’ refers specifically to Disney’s proprietary unmanned aircraft vehicle (UAV) system. The payload is defined a a show element which is a ‘physical structure or “special effects mechanism” weighing no more than five pounds that is securely attached to each multicopter [a four, six or eight blade drone, manufactured by 3DR] with eighteen pound tensile strength nylon cable ties.’ Further in the document, the application notes that the payloads may be larger than the drones themselves and are ‘typically an inanimate object’ and that drones will fly for approximately five minutes at a time in subnetworks of five multicopters each and will go no higher than 150 feet above ground level at a maximum speed of 6 knots per hour. Flight paths will ‘largely take place over water elements and restricted areas.’ As much of the document refers to Disney’s safety controls, Disney says the system will include geofencing that will prevent the UAVs from leaving their controlled airspace which will already be a minimum of 100 feet away from guest viewing.
According to the application, ‘Flixels are to accompany entertainment at the Walt DisneyWorld 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. Once the show segment concludes, Flixels will return to the launching/landing area.’