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Real, Flying Tinker Bell? Disney Parks Plan to Use Acrobatic Drones

There’s a new Disney star, and it’s not a character, a cartoon, or a movie. It’s a drone that beams light and performs acrobatics during shows.

There’s a new Disney star, and it’s not a character, a cartoon, or a movie. It’s a fleet of drones that beam light and perform acrobatics during night-time events. Think of them as real, high-flying Tinker Bells.

Known as a "Flixel" — short for "floating pixel" — the 10-pound drones are part of an elaborate new aerobatic setup for which Disney just filed a patent. Disney plans to use up to 50 UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) to perform pre-programmed LED aerobatics, beam projected images onto gigantic screens, and to articulate the legs and arms of huge Disney character puppets (which may not be as terrifying as it sounds).

The drones will have to keep outside a 100-foot perimeter around guests, and operate no higher than 150 feet above the ground. “Their flight paths will largely take place over water elements and restricted areas,” wrote Disney in paperwork filed with the FAA last year, when it applied for an exception to the no-fly zone over its theme parks.

In its application, Disney also wrote that it hopes the new entertainment will be “a safe and innovative addition to the Disney guest experience, one that Disney hopes will inspire the public’s imagination about what is next in aviation."

Though Disney is definitely at the forefront of entertainment techtronics in the U.S., Lotte World, South Korea’s largest indoor theme park, celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2014 with the world’s largest fleet of drones and flying lanterns during its “Let’s Dream Night Parade."