Travis Air Force Base first military installation in the U.S. to host a drone show

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The Fourth of July celebration came one day late at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield.

And it came with digital fireworks, instead of the flammable variety.

Partnering with Intel, Travis became the first military installation in the country to host a drone show, enjoyed after dark Thursday by thousands of base employees, enlisted personnel, their families and guests. 

"When we reached out to Intel they were as excited as we were, they hadn't done a July 4th show and had never done anything with the military," said Travis AFB Vice Wing Commander Matt Leard.

"Travis has always been on the leading edge of innovation, we get that from Silicon Valley down the road." 

Winds at the airfield forced a one-day delay of the firework show.

"Weather is something we can't control," Intel's Drone Program GM Natalie Cheung told KTVU.

In her hands, a round webbed drone, one of 500 flying in the Travis show. 

On the 4th, winds hit 30 miles per hour, double what the drones can handle. 

Made of soft plastic, each device weighs three-quarters of a pound.

Engineered specifically for light shows, the drones have no camera. 

They fly in precise formation, projecting more than 4 billion color combinations. 

If a drone strays, an invisible geo-fence sends it back into the animation, and if it hits an outer boundary, it automatically turns off and drops to the ground. 

"We have no rogue drones at this point, we've thought about all the technology," smiled Cheung. 
Across the U.S. on Independence Day, more communities than ever turned to the high-tech alternative, especially in the west, where wildfires are a worry.

Because of fire hazard, Travis had never hosted a fireworks exhibition in the past. 

Drones are a safer option, and far less noisy than traditional pyrotechnics. 

They emit a quiet buzz, not even audible over the musical soundtrack. 

"With fireworks, there will be some people who still like the 'booms'," acknowledged Col. Leard, "but moving synchronized through the air, making these really impressive shapes, it's not something people are used to, so you get an awe-factor."  

The crowd at Travis seemed to agree, judging by the spontaneous applause that broke out as the floating lights formed an American flag, an aircraft, and words and symbols.  

Like most people, Intel's drone boss grew up watching fireworks.  

They are not something you can really control, and it's not a story you can tell, " said Cheung, " so we're really changing the picture of what entertainment can become, what lighting can become, because this is 3-D lighting in the sky." 

The same drones utilized at Travis flew at the Winter Olympics, at the Coachella Music festival and above the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas. 

Drone shows are shorter, and more expensive than professional fireworks presentations, but drones are re-usable.    

The only disappointment in Wednesday's show was the exclusion of the public. 

Originally, shuttle buses were arranged to bring community members onto the base, but when the spectacle was postponed, the buses could not be re-scheduled. 

The show also started at 10 p.m., a half-hour later than scheduled, due to a technical glitch that required a system reboot.