By: Nick Gambino

Very few have ever experienced what it’s like to fly over the entirety of Washington, D.C. There are several no-flyover zones in the nation’s capital because, well, it’s the nation’s capital. “National” and “security” are words often found in the same sentence around these parts. A new exhibit in Arlington is giving the average civilian a chance to see all of D.C. from above, for the first time.

HoverDC is an attraction/exhibit that launched this week in The Observation Deck at CEB Tower. The exhibit includes a 4D experience that utilizes high-res imagery shot from a helicopter to create a one-of-a-kind flyover of the city.

While the Observation Deck itself is pretty stunning with floor to ceiling windows arranged in a circle to give you 360-degree views, it’s HoverDC that people will be showing up for. I had the chance to check it out and what they’ve put together is pretty fascinating.

The set-up is simple. Up to 12 people stand on the edges of a rectangle floor/screen with headphones on. When ready, the floor “opens up” and provides an edge-to-edge aerial view from the underbelly of a helicopter. Fans fixed above are synced up with the video and blow air on you to make it feel like you’re really flying overhead. The pilot narrates the ride and acts as a guide to let you know what you’re looking at. You’ll see stunning nature views in Great Falls, monuments like the Jefferson Memorial and sports arenas like the Washington Nationals Park and Audi Field where D.C. United plays. You’ll even get a glimpse of the Pentagon from above including the courtyard that fills in the entire center of the pentagon-shaped building.

Edge Experiential, the company behind HoverDC, had to develop new tech in order to do it right. They considered numerous options before settling on high-res LED panels fixed into the floor. This is the finest dot pitch ever been done for a floor display. Crystal clear imagery was a priority as it sells the experience.

“It’s very new technology which was scary and fun at the same time.” Josh Tsui, Executive Producer at Edge Experiential, told me. “It’s incredibly high res, almost 4K. This is the first time that this type of display has been done as a floor. Usually, these things are up on a wall.”

Now, walking on LED displays shouldn’t work, especially when considering the amount of foot traffic that HoverDC will see. The displays were designed to be sturdy enough to handle walking bodies and for extra protection they laid down a transparent cover, mainly to make it easier to clean and prevent damage from high heels.

HoverDC saw its maiden voyage this week, so there are still a few things to tweak. Not every spot on the platform makes full use of the fans and ceiling lights above could use dimming, if not being shut off altogether. But for an aerial view of D.C., this is the best game in town.


Nick Gambino is a regular script writer and tech beat reporter for NewsWatch. He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and daughter.