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November 22, 2014

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NYE in Las Vegas:

The anatomy of fireworks

Science plays a role in the fiery aerial displays planned for Strip celebrations

Image

Courtesy of Grucci

Grucci Grand Finale.

Engineering firework displays — which may seem like rocket science for some —is a form of artistic expression for Felix J. Grucci Jr., who has been blowing up rockets for nearly 60 years.

“But science plays a role in the execution of the program,” said Grucci, executive vice president of Fireworks by Grucci and the designer of the Las Vegas firework show.

Aerial fireworks are made using different chemical pellets placed inside casings, Grucci said.

The casings are stuffed into black cylinder tubes about 12 to 14 inches tall, Grucci said, and are connected by fuses to a central control board used to remotely launch each firework.

The pellets, also known as stars, are what give the fireworks their vibrant color. Each star is made with different elements and chemicals.

“To get the blue color you burn a copper salt,” said Grucci, adding that it has to burn at nearly 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit to produce the color.

Strontium is the primary color agent in both the red dahlias and the fan illumination, Grucci said.

Gunpowder ignites all the fireworks, whether it’s added into the casings for aerial shots or compacted into cylindrical tubes to create the fan illusion, Grucci said.

Once the shell casing is shot into the air and reaches a certain altitude a timed fuse will light the gunpowder, Grucci said. “It breaks the casing, expels the contents and lights them simultaneously.”

    • Blue Chrysanthemums and Red Dahlias with Red Fan Illuminations

      Blue Chrysanthemums and Red Dahlias with Red Fan Illuminations



      Named after flowers, these fireworks—blue chrysanthemums and red dahlias—bloom in the sky and are offset by a fan-like burst jetting from the Ceasers Palace roof.

      Igniting a firework takes about a tenth of a second, Grucci said. “All of that happens in a blink of an eye.”

      The fireworks are timed to popular dance music that was selected by Grucci’s sister, Donna Grucci Butler, who is president and CEO of the family business.

    • Blue Chrysanthemums with Silver Palm Tree Core with Red, Blue and Green Comets.

      Blue Chrysanthemums with Silver Palm Tree Core with Red, Blue and Green Comets



      Fireworks known as comets are created in a fashion similar to loading a shotgun, but instead of with a bullet and a gun barrel, cylinder tubes are compacted with gunpowder and chemical pellets, Grucci said.

      At launch, the comet burns down the center of the tube creating a pressure that forces the fireworks to create a jet stream into the air.

      Green comets are made with barium salts, red with strontium and blue with copper.

      The palm-tree core is designed by filling a tube with an aluminum chemical mix that gives the firework its silver color. Unlike the fan illusion, set at ranging angles, the tree core is launched at a straight 90-degree angle.

      The blue chrysanthemums casings are filled with both blue and silver stars.

    • Titanium Flash Salutes accented with Silver and Red Fountains

      Titanium Flash Salutes accented with Silver and Red Fountains



      The Titanium flash salute “produces a very loud bang and a brilliant white flash,” Grucci said.

      Grucci did not elaborate on what chemicals go into creating this firework for safety reasons but said the firework is similar to the comets.

    • Gold Palm Trees with Gold Rising Tail.

      Gold Palm Trees with Gold Rising Tail



      The gold comes from burning a chemical similar to household charcoal, Grucci said.

      A finer charcoal is used to create the leaves of this tropical inspired tree, Grucci said. A coarser mix of the charcoal is used to making the trailing effect.

    • Grucci Grand Finale.

      Grucci Grand Finale



      The Grucci Grand Finale is shot off all the rooftops participating in the previous Las Vegas New Year’s Eve shows, Grucci said.

      The aerial shells are launched simultaneously.

      “What’s happening off of one rooftop is happening off the other seven,” he said.

      From anywhere on the Strip people are hearing and seeing the same program. It units the Strip from one end to the other, Grucci said.

    • Purple Chrysanthemums accented with Purple Comets.

      Purple Chrysanthemums accented with Purple Comets



      Grucci said, quite simply, the purple chrysanthemums and the purple comets are created using a copper, usually used in the blue fireworks, and strontium, used in the red ones.

    • Red Shooting Comets.

      Red Shooting Comets



      The Stratosphere’s height means extra precaution taken when placing and launching fireworks, Grucci said.

      “We tailor effects specifically for the Stratosphere,” he said.

      Grucci’s team packs the peak of the tower and all along the outside edge.

      There are 51 firing points, Grucci said.

    • Golden Glitter Chrysanthemums accented by Blue and Red Criss-Crossing Comets.

      Golden Glitter Chrysanthemums accented by Blue and Red Criss-Crossing Comets



      As most of the golden fireworks often seem like misty ribbons of fire, there is another type of gold firework that’s extra whimsical.

      The golden glitter is made with a blend of chemicals, including the gold-producing charcoal and the silver-producing aluminum to get the firework to sparkle, Grucci said.

      Golden glitter depending on the chemical mix can create a gentle twinkle or an intense strobe effect.

    • Blue and Green Peonies with Silver Rising Tails accented by Gold Tailed Comets.

      Blue and Green Peonies with Silver Rising Tails accented by Gold Tailed Comets



      This display highlights the various display combinations Grucci is able to create using the different types of fireworks.

      Some of the fireworks have one green shell and two blue ones, Grucci said. “And sometimes there are five together.”

    • Red Chrysanthemums with Silver Tips and Red Rising Tail and Red Shooting Comets.

      Red Chrysanthemums with Silver Tips and Red Rising Tail and Red Shooting Comets



      The silver tips of the red chrysanthemums are made by rolling the different chemical pellets together in a process similar to cement rolling, Grucci said.

      The red stars are rolled with the sliver chemicals in this instance.

      Whatever color is meant to appear first, or on the outside of the firework, is rolled last, Grucci said.

    • Silver Fountains and Purple and Green Comets.

      Silver Fountains and Purple and Green Comets



      Using different firework combinations set at different angles creates the different compositions, Grucci said.

      Silver fountains are produced by tubes of highly compacted aluminum and other chemicals that are then set off by gunpowder to produce the wall of fire.

      “Each one of our programs is always custom designed, so the show is never exactly the same.”

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