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Is it a bird? A plane? No, a whale made of hundreds of drones

Written by Sue Osborn

Sue Osborn is Skyshows' Head of Flight Operations and Chief Remote Pilot. She has more than 15 year's experience across uncrewed systems, predominately from her time as a Mission Commander and Flight Instructor within the Australian Army's premier uncrewed systems Unit, 20 Regiment. Sue now uses her significant Defence experience in the civilian sector to promote flight safety and excellence.

Skyshows delivers festival first with 400 Drone Light Show for Brisbane Festival.

This article was originally published by Brisbane Times here

Four hundred drones will launch into the sky, with an illuminated whale gliding above the Brisbane River to herald this year’s Brisbane Festival.

“Brisbane really hasn’t seen this type of technology before,” Skyshows managing director Andrew Crowe said.

Set to launch after Riverfire on Saturday nightNieergoo: Spirit of the Whale celebrates the creation story of the Moreton Bay islands, accompanied by music by Guy Webster and directed by storyteller Shannon Ruska and Tribal Experiences.

“Fireworks are fantastic,” Crowe said, “but drone shows allow us to tell a story that fireworks don’t necessarily let us tell.”

Controlling the army of drones will be Skyshows chief remote pilot and head of flight operations Sue Osborn, who, like Crowe, used to serve in the armed forces.

“It’s not about how many drones there are in the sky. It’s about the space and it’s going to look pretty big in Brisbane,” Osborn said.

She and Crowe were friends years before they became business partners – they were both deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, and Osborn is the godmother of Crowe’s daughter.

“We just love our job. The army set us up to have skills that we can kind of bring into a civilian setting,” Osborn said. As for the risk of one of the 340-gram drones ending up in a watery grave, the pair are not worried.

“We’re really focused on the environment. Our batteries last a very long time and our drones float,” Crowe said.

“In the rare event one lands in the water, they float and we can pick them up so they don’t end up on the bottom of the river.”

The duo have done almost 50 shows, mostly in Sydney for events such as Elevate Sydney.

Only six of their drones have landed in the water and just one was left behind – simply because Circular Quay ferries were unable to stop traffic to retrieve it.

Discussing the recent light drone show production by Australian Traffic Network – a different company – that saw more than 100 drones plunge into Melbourne’s Yarra River ahead of a Matildas match, Crowe said the industry was learning tough lessons on quality and environmentally friendly technology.

“Sadly, we saw the Matildas didn’t get a drone show. Potentially with more sophisticated innovative technology, we might have been able to celebrate those events better,” he said.

“Our drones float and we’ll have a safety boat here that will have a fishing net to scoop them out … but the odds of putting on a good show is in our favour.”

Not only is restoring the reputation of drones important, Osborn wanted to do Nieergoo: Spirit of the Whale justice.

“We definitely also want to tell the story to the Brisbane public.

“We’ve done a lot of shows in Sydney so it’s good to be able to come back to our home roots, show what our business is about, what our technology can do and really tell the First Nations story,” she said.

“It’s going to be excitement. To give a sneak peek, the public will see a whale above the Brisbane River.

“If you thought Riverfire was good before — it’s about to step up.”

Andrew Crowe and Sue Osborn, plan to launch 400 drones for Brisbane Festival.

View more on the Skyshows blog

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