At an Air Show in China, Drones, Not Jets, Are the Stars

They are starting earlier and earlier, too. At Zhongjiacun elementary school in downtown Wuhan, Xiong Sheyu, 11, is a member of the drone club. Under the supervision of a teacher, Yang Lei, students meet every Sunday to fly commercial drones.

They also build their own, which look like giant paper airplanes.

From the school’s playground, Sheyu sends one of them soaring, a Chinese flag in tow. With a remote control, he steers it among the concrete buildings. The cardboard plane, held together by tape and glue, hangs in the air for around 10 minutes.

At an Air Show in China, Drones, Not Jets, Are the Stars
At an Air Show in China, Drones, Not Jets, Are the Stars

“I love to see the world from the sky,” Sheyu said.

His father, Xiong Pinggao, added: “Learning to fly drones can make him prouder of the country.”

At the air show, Sam Zhang and Yuan Jiajie laid out more than 100 white drones on a grassy field, preparing for the evening’s entertainment. The two men work for Ehang, a Guangzhou-based company that makes consumer and commercial drones. Ehang is also testing another drone — a small, unmanned helicopter, essentially — that can fly a passenger for 25 minutes at an average speed of 37 miles an hour.

Another business for Ehang: light shows. Mr. Zhang drives a blue truck loaded with equipment all around China, filling the skies above private parties and government events with swarms of colorfully lit drones.

As night falls in Wuhan, Mr. Zhang and Mr. Yuan take their controls. Like a regiment of fireflies, the drones lift off from the ground. They form words and shapes — a plane; a bird’s wings; the letters “WFE,” for World Fly-In Expo — and make the sky dance and swirl with light.

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