Kansas City Area Pyrotechnicians set a world record for largest fireworks display shot on COBRA Firing Systems at Sky Wars with a show containing five thousand pyrotechnic devices choreographed to Taylor Swift songs.
Pyrotechnic club Kansas City Area Pyrotechnicians (KCAP) and team lead Donnie Toms had much to celebrate when their massive Taylor Swift-themed firework display successfully launched on Sunday, September 24th in Innsbrook, Missouri after it was delayed 24 hours due to a lightning storm. The show, which contained five thousand pyrotechnic devices and featured several rarely-seen elements, not only earned Toms and his team the Pro Display competition win of the 2023 Sky Wars: US Fireworks Championship; it is also recognized as the largest pyrotechnics display in the world to date to be shot using COBRA Firing Systems.
This record-setting display had multiple points of significance:
- The 14-minute display totaled 4,896 cues and featured 5,000 individual firework devices, a new world record for largest show shot on COBRA Firing Systems.
- KCAP also launched two 16-inch firework shells, one in their record-size display and another as a memorial shell, at the 2023 Sky Wars event. It was the first time in the event’s history at the Innsbrook, MO location that shells larger than 12 inches in diameter had been introduced.
- Slated to be shot Saturday, September 23rd, KCAP’s Sky Wars display was postponed to the following evening after a severe lightning storm approached the field midway through the event.
- The Kansas City-based team scripted their entire show to Taylor Swift songs. Due to the weather delay, the show just so happened to be shot on the same day that Taylor Swift herself was first seen attending a Kansas City Chiefs football game at Arrowhead Stadium just a few hours away.
- The display incorporated the tallest-reaching equipment of any other show on the Sky Wars field: three 80-foot man lifts each suspending a 360-degree pyrotechnic ‘wheel’.
“It really feels surreal,” Toms said when asked about his team’s championship win and the significance of the show’s scale. Their 14-minute display was actually the second record-breaking show of this year’s Sky Wars event; for a mere 24 hours, AJ Plata held the record for largest fireworks display shot with Cobra after his ‘Pro Am’ competition piece on Saturday night featured 4,000 cues. Prior to that, the record had been held by a show shot in Taiwan with 3,600 cues.
“It’s an honor to say this was a world record COBRA display with 5,000 cues,” said COBRA Firing Systems creator Scott Smith, who’d flown out to Missouri to witness the show firsthand. “The combination of world class design and our equipment’s ability to handle the scale and precision was humbling to watch.”
It was not originally intended to be a record-size show, Toms said, but the clubs’ ideas outgrew COBRA’s single-remote limitations.
“I didn’t find out for certain until I was at PGI,” Toms said, referring to when he and other KCAP members assisted with setting up the drone-fireworks show that went viral over the summer. Toms said COBRA’s Scott Smith was there, and in talking to Toms, verified that KCAP would be shooting “for sure the largest show ever shot on COBRA” at Sky Wars, and would ultimately “smash” the previous record.
Toms had spent nine months alongside five of his fellow KCAP club members (Travis Kramer, Richie Bryson, Jacob Summers, Zach Huibregtse, and Justin Fletcher) planning the momentous display.
On site, the KCAP setup crew dwarfed the other crews on the Innsbrook field with around fifty members, all easily spotted in pink team shirts.
“We pretty much had our own small army out there,” Toms joked.
Setup of the 14-minute show began early in the week, and by the time Saturday rolled around, the KCAP ‘army’ had sixty positions on the innsbrook field, including three 80-foot man lifts (each suspending a 360-degree ‘wheel’ of pyrotechnics) and two 16-inch-diameter shells dug into the earth, ready for launch.
“As a team, we originally asked ourselves, ‘What are all the things you’ve never seen before at Sky Wars?’” Toms said about their decision to incorporate not one but three 80-foot lifts. “Everyone’s seen one wheel up in the sky. Well, why couldn’t we do three?”
Toms’ team also decided to incorporate two 16-inch firework shells, a first for the Sky Wars event in Innsbrook where previously only shells up to 12 inches in diameter had been launched.
To be able to safely shoot shells of such caliber, the mortars had to be at least 1,600 feet from the crowd, or 100 feet per inch in diameter. Toms said he approached Sky Wars organizer Rob Cima months prior, who sought landowner approval and cooperation to clear extra space at the very back of the field. Thanks to KCAP’s creative ambition, the championship event can now continue to accommodate firework shells up to 16 inches.
One of the 16-inch shells was featured in KCAP’s display choreography, and the other launched on its own as a memorial to KCAP club member Travis Kramer’s wife’s late father. Toms said that particular launch provided closure and relief to the family.
KCAP’s show was the ninth and final ‘pyromusical’, or concert in the sky, slated to be shot at the national fireworks championship on Saturday, September 23rd, which had a sold-out crowd of over 10,000 in attendance. Towards the end of the evening, an incoming thunderstorm caused organizers to call for an evacuation of the field, cutting a few features from Saturday’s show lineup. Included in the cut were KCAP’s ‘Pro’ competition piece and 16-inch memorial shell launch, as well as a final fireball sequence by the Tennessee-based Fireball Dudes – video below.
Toms said he and his team felt “heartbroken” when it was clear their show could not be shot Saturday evening.
“When you know that you have a crazy, ridiculous, fun show that people would absolutely love, you want to be able to shoot that in front of the 10,000 people who are there to watch it.”
Fortunately, the teams’ hard work did not go to waste. Their display was launched the following evening after event officials obtained city and property owner permission for a non-public launch. (The fireball sequence was launched Sunday morning, as Fireball Dudes lead Bill Corbett had a prior commitment preventing him from staying that evening.)
When asked about the coincidence of their Taylor Swift-themed display being shot on the same day as Swift attending a Chiefs game, Toms mentioned that several KCAP members actually set up a TV under an event tent Sunday afternoon and watched the Chiefs game as they waited for night to fall.
Despite being disappointed that the show wasn’t witnessed by Saturday’s giant crowd, Toms said his crew really enjoyed the “intimate” setting of Sunday evening’s shoot.
“It was kind of a situation we wouldn’t have had on Saturday night,” Toms said. “If you watch some of the videos online, you can see the KCAP people jumping up and down. We’re cheering, and we’re having fun as it’s all going. It’s just us, no one else around, and we kind of had that freedom to be able to stand out there and celebrate.”
The teams’ relief that the show was in the air was palpable, especially after there was yet another delay several minutes before the show finally began.
“That was an extremely stressful ten minutes, let me tell you,” Toms laughed. He said the team hadn’t done a dry-run process on Sunday like they had on Saturday, and when Toms hit ‘play’ on his timecode, they ran into a series of technical difficulties that required them to restart their command center before the show was fortunately able to launch.
Toms said he visibly relaxed when the timecode counted down and the show went finally in the air.
With 4,896 cues and 5,000 individual firework devices, this display was a monster of a show. Shooting it required 60 positions, 256 COBRA modules, and two COBRA remotes. Toms and his team threw in some well-executed symbols with fireworks: two hearts, the word “ME”, numbers 1-2-3, and “22.”
Toms and KCAP’s display was the final show to be shot for our 2023 Pro competition. The other two other shows, one by Tim Traphagen with Casabella Pyrotechnics and another by David Anglin with RKM Fireworks shot Saturday before the crowd had to be evacuated. Unfortunately for the competition, some judges could not return for Sunday’s launch, so a winner could not be announced; but Traphagan and Anglin approached event organizers with their decisions to concede after seeing Toms’ display online.
On Tuesday, September 26th, Toms received the call congratulating him and KCAP as the winners of the 2023 Sky Wars Pro competition.
“It really gives you a lot of faith in the pyro community when everybody can band together like that,” Toms said about his competitors agreeing to concede. “They didn’t have to do that, they could have left it as it was. But for them to come together and recognize, ‘KCAP deserved to win this and should get the trophy,’ it really shows how much the pyro community comes together and can rely on each other.”
The show has earned KCAP significant visibility and notoriety in the pyrotechnics community recently, including being congratulated on the front page of the COBRA website. Toms says the club has gotten a lot of new interest in the weeks since Sky Wars, and he feels as though their world-record display has validated their status as “the premiere pyromusical club” in the U.S.
“A major deserved congrats to Donnie and the incredible team behind the KCAP winning show,” said COBRA’s Scott Smith. “The future is bright and KCAP has set a new bar for others to follow.”
Toms says if there’s to be a “Championship of Champions” in the Sky Wars Pro division in 2025, KCAP will be happy to participate. Sky Wars, the US Invitational Fireworks Championship, is the largest and one of the only fireworks competitions in the nation. It is presented annually in Innsbrook by the Missouri Pyrotechnics Association (mopyro.org).
Tickets to the 2024 US Fireworks Championship are slated to go on-sale in late October to members of the Sky Wars free mailing list.
- October 15, 2023