The man who plans to be ringmaster- of a drone circus


  • By Rose Eveleth

There’s a busy annual programme of events at the Amsterdam Arena, including international football fixtures and music festivals. Soon it will add another event to its calendar: later this year, the stadium will host the first-ever drone circus.

Amsterdam-based event company Fjuze recently launched a trailer for the event that they’re calling Air2015. It’s a thumping preview, full of Tron-like lights and computer-generated drones doing aerial stunts to a soundtrack that could have come from any blockbuster science fiction thriller.

“We won’t sell one ticket on this trailer,” says Klaas Rohde, laughing. It’s too abstract, too far out there, he says. Rohde is the brains behind the event – the circus ringmaster, if you will – and he says they’re working on a new trailer that will give people a more realistic idea of what the show will be like.

And what, exactly, will it be like? Rohde points to the shows he’s inspired by. “I love the Cirque du Soleil shows, they’re doing a circus with a lot of lights and themes and spectacle. That’s an inspiration for sure,” he says. “I love the Blue Planet, Planet Earth documentaries of BBC, with the beautiful pictures. I love the Tron inspiration, and the combination of the beautiful pictures with the futuristic style. We’re inspired by a lot of things that are happening. We’re going to have beautiful things with drones and bring them in a theme with lights and music and projection as well.”

The idea of playing with drones was planted in Rohde’s mind nearly 20 years ago, when he was an intern for a television production company in Amsterdam. They wanted to film a segment about crop circles, but they didn’t have the budget to rent a helicopter, so Rohde went out and found the best radio-controlled helicopter pilot he could to fly a camera over the fields. “The pictures were unbelievable, and I had this feeling that I wanted to do something with this.”

Then, five years ago, Rohde helped put on a series of drive-in movies at the Amsterdam Arena – which is a typical modern football stadium with a retractable roof. “Then I thought, how cool would it be if you started flying [drones] indoors, in a controlled air space – there’s no wind.” Two weeks later he had gathered together as many pilots of radio-controlled helicopters and drones as he could find to test out the idea. The sight of so many drones in flight in the arena was stunning. “It was unbelievable, it was magic, seeing those planes flying so close to you. Sitting in the stadium, you’re higher than normally, so you were on the same level as the plane. And it worked really well.”—of-a-drone-circus