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A look at the 190 drones involved in the Calgary Stampede Grandstand Show

The Calgary Stampede is steeped in tradition, but in recent years, a high-tech addition to the Grandstand Show has been turning heads and is being hailed as the future of aerial displays.

“Today, we’re dealing with 190 drones in the show and 200 on the ground ready to go,” said Robert Cole, the pilot for Fusion Drone Shows.

Every day of the Stampede, the team meticulously places the drones in a grid pattern in a secluded area not far from the Grandstand.

“So they will put all the drones out on the grid, we’re using a metre-and-a-half spacing right now, we can go down to one metre depending on the size,” explains Brad Dezotell, one of the owners of Fusion Drone Shows.

Precision and timing are everything when it comes to putting on these shows.

“The entire show launches via timecode, so it’s dead-on down to 1/60th of a second,” Cole said.

“[The drones] are all in the air at the same time and they all come back and land at the same time. They all have an independent GPS location that they have to be in in the sky and they are pretty darn accurate.”

Before drones, Dezotell was the producer of one of the largest fireworks shows in Western Canada and put on shows around the world.

“We wanted a new avenue to entertain people,” Dezotell said.

“This was the latest technology and several partners got together across the country and we created Fusion Drone Shows.”

Using drones in aerial displays has taken off, literally, and the Calgary Stampede has been an early client of Fusion Drone Shows.

The two groups have been collaborating since 2022 and each year, the drone show gets more dazzling and grand in scale.

“We have violins playing up in the sky, we have drums, we have an electric guitar up there, we have musical notes. It’s all synchronized, it’s just the spectacle you need to come down and see,” Dezotell said.

While the drones can withstand the stifling summer heat, they are not immune to all weather conditions, with rain and wind being the primary concerns that can keep these machines grounded.

But they also can be a benefit to any outdoor event when the land is too dry to launch fireworks.

However, Dezotell doesn’t see a future where drone swarms replace fireworks entirely.

“Fireworks is its own world, it’s the rock ‘n’ roll show of entertainment. [The drone show] is more beautiful pictures in the sky… but it’s a whole different form of entertainment. It’s just going to be a piece of a big picture in the big events.”

Cole says Fusion Drone Shows has had displays in Edmonton and at the Montreal Grand Prix and appetite for their drones is growing fast.

“With the Stampede, I think it’s just going to grow and grow and grow.”

The Grandstand show runs every night during the Calgary Stampede starting at 9 p.m. with the drones component starting at around 10:45 p.m., weather dependent.

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