How the Disney Dragon Flies
There's been some speculation about a flying dragon for Disney's park since back in 2010 when the company filed a patent outlining just such a contraption. At the time, the patent filing coincided with the announcement of another area of the park themed after James Cameron's blockbuster film Avatar (which is due in 2016), and it was assumed to be related to that.
Then this past summer, passersby near a small airport in California spotted a winged dragon going for a series of test flights, and soon after, Disney launched a small viral marketing campaign encouraging people to "spot the dragon." Disney finally debuted its creation by having it swoop over a crowd of surprised guests during a media event before New Fantasyland's grand opening.
The dragon flies on its own without wires, but not because of the wings and tail. According to the patent filing, it's actually an ultralight aircraft using an inflatable parawing combined with a rear-mounted fan, which a single pilot uses to steer and keep the vehicle airborne. The parawing and cockpit are camouflaged to blend in with the night sky, rendering them practically invisible when lit with a bright spotlight from below.
Everything else – flapping wings, moving head and tail, fireworks – is all to distract the audience from the true flight elements, giving it the appearance of an autonomous flying creature when viewed from the ground.
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