Skip to the last update at the end for my final thoughts…
I bought a small remote control helicopter a few days ago because I was walking through the mall and saw the helicopter flying around a kiosk and thought, “That is so cool.” I was instantly hooked. The guy controlling it was an expert. I watched him fly several helicopters, from tiny ones to giant ones, performing all kinds of impressive manoeuvres. He made it look easy (it’s not easy). I asked questions for about 10 minutes, watched the guy fly a few more models, and then bought the cheapest one ($45), which happens to be the most durable model: The Black Hawk. [Apr. 05/11 update: The prices have gone up considerably since I bought the first helicopter and then ordered a replacement. The helicopter, and especially the replacement, is not worth $45, let alone the $65 they're asking now. It's a fun helicopter if you happen to get one that works, but it's not worth the hassle if you don't.] I’ve crashed it about a hundred times in the past few days and it still flies. I doubt I’ll buy a larger model, but this mini-helicopter (it fits in the palm of my hand) is fun to fly around the house — especially for people who like to torment their pets. The manufacturer, Cobra Toys, recommends the Black Hawk mini-helicopter for children over the age of 5. I’d be impressed by any 5-year-old able to control one of these helicopters without crashing it into a wall every 10 seconds. Realistically, here’s the deal:
Don’t expect to do anything other than go up and down for the first day or two. There’s a joystick control for up and down; another stick for left, right, forward and backwards (but good luck on backwards); and a knob that turns left and right to adjust the trim. Just about every time the helicopter takes off, it starts spinning either left or right. Turn the trim knob in the opposite direction of the spin to steady the helicopter. I spend half my time trying to steady the helicopter, adjusting the trim. Even when I’m able to control the flight well, something will eventually cause the helicopter to start spinning and I’ll have to stop the flight (hover and hope the helicopter doesn’t drift into a wall) while I adjust the trim. So far, I don’t think I’ve gone a minute without having to adjust the trim — and that’s usually when the helicopter crashes. Automatic trim would be a huge improvement in the design. But it’s still a lot of fun trying not to crash.
A few flying tips based on my initial experience: 1) Practice going up and down and adjusting the trim; try to land softly. 2) After that, practice taking off, going forward and then landing again. 3) Don’t try to go forward and turn at the same time. An easier method: Go forward. STOP. Turn left or right. Then go forward in the new direction. Save the fancy moves for later. 4) Avoid air conditioners, any kind of fan or rooms with hot and cold air pockets. The helicopter is sensitive to air currents and will easily crash. It’s not an outdoor helicopter.
The controller takes 6 AA batteries. A wire from the controller charges the helicopter. It takes about 20 minutes to charge. The charge will last between 5 and 10 minutes. That might not seem like much, but it’s enough to entertain most beginners. I recommend rechargeable alkaline batteries.
LEDs on the controller are supposed to flash while the helicopter charges, then stop flashing afterwards, but my LEDs don’t do anything. I call that a defect, but I’ve crashed my helicopter too many times to return it, and the non-functioning LEDs don’t effect the flight of the helicopter, so I don’t care.
The instructions are horribly translated (from Chinese, I assume). Exhibit A: “In if the flight does not have the impetus to change the operating lever, but the helicopter still in airborne spun, by now might adjust in your hand on remote control’s vernier adjustment knob, balanced does not spin until the helicopter.” That’s fabulous.
Replacement parts, mainly rotor blades, can be ordered online (something like $5 each). That’s a good thing because I know mine will have more than a few nicks in them before I master the controls.
The helicopter sure can take a beating, which is excellent news for anyone who wants to learn how to fly remote control helicopters without spending much money. If I wanted to buy a larger outdoor model (and some of them are pretty damn cool), starting off small and cheap is a smart way to ease into it. Just don’t be fooled into thinking you can control the helicopter as well as the guy in the mall. (I still don’t know how he managed to do what he did.)
I’ll post updates and perhaps a video in the comments — except for this update:
Jan. 13/10: The helicopter finally died on me. I put it through its paces. Although I did get better at controlling it, none of it was precision flying or landing, and I crashed it over and over again. It probably would have lasted longer if I was more careful with it. It still operates, but the helicopter shakes like crazy and doesn’t get off the ground. It was fun while it lasted. I was just hoping it would last a bit longer. I’m not sure it was worth the money.
Apr. 11/10: I ordered a replacement helicopter of the same model, but the helicopter that came in the mail was a slightly different design and didn’t fly as smoothly as my original helicopter. It wobbled and couldn’t hover in one spot, which made precision flying impossible. It sucked. Some minor adjustment to the blades did nothing, so I removed them and put them on the old helicopter which now flies better than the new helicopter, but still not as smoothly as it used to. Final thoughts: It was a waste of money ordering the replacement helicopter. These helicopters are made cheaply. Some will fly well and some won’t. If you’re lucky to get one that flies well out of the box, be careful with it because you might not be so lucky if you order a replacement in the mail. Returning a defective helicopter through the mail isn’t worth the hassle. I’ll make due with a helicopter that doesn’t fly so well and won’t bother ordering from Cobra Toys again. To anyone thinking about buying one of these helicopters, don’t do it unless you can test out the actual helicopter first. And I’d only buy one in a store where you can easily return it if it’s defective. The guy selling them in the mall disappears after Xmas before anyone has a chance to return the duds.