How Disney Built a Flying Robot Dragon
Disney created a flying robot dragon that has a cleverly disguised trick.
CREDIT: Disney Parks
A fire-spitting dragon roared as it flew above visiting crowds before the grand opening of Disney's New Fantasyland. The robotic beast appears to have flown straight out of fantasy into reality — but its flying performance relies upon a hidden trick.
A Disney patent filed in 2010 explains how the mechanical creature actually represents a cleverly-disguised ultralight aircraft flown by a lone pilot, according to Gizmag. Such aircraft have an inflatable parawing to stay aloft and a rear-mounted fan to propel the dragon forward.
Disney Imagineers may not have conquered gravity by building an actual robotic flying dragon, but they still clearly know their craft when building fantastical illusions. They disguised the mechanical workings of the dragon by camouflaging the parawing and cockpit to blend in with the night sky — making the dragon appear to fly all on its own when lit from the ground by a spotlight.
A fully robotic version of the dragon ultralight without a human pilot represents the next logical step, even if Disney has not shown any signs of taking that approach. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has already experimented with flying robots that use parafoils to deliver emergency supplies for disaster relief.