This week, we review four different remote-control (RC) helicopters (there are so many more that we’ll be reviewing more in the not-too-distant future). Each is a little different, but they do have some things in common. To start with, you’re going to need a lot of batteries. In most cases, the remote control unit (not the actual helicopter) takes 6 AAs. The choppers themselves have rechargeable batteries that will give you 10-15 minutes of flight time between plugins. They also all have a built-in stabilizer (sometimes called a gyro) that, as one of the manufacturers put it, lets you focus on flying instead of on trying to keep it from crashing. Finally—and most importantly—they’re a fantastic way for dads and kids to have a ton of fun playing—and learning about the physics of flight—together.
Hercules Unbreakable Helicopter (World Tech Toys)
One of the biggest complaints people have about RC helicopters is that they’re fragile—sometimes breaking on the first flight. The Hercules has resolved that issue by making something that is amazingly durable. We didn’t test their claim that the body can withstand 200 pounds of force, but we did crash the helicopter from altitudes that would have permanently grounded any other bird. The Hercules uses the standard dual-joystick controls: one side controls up and down and speed, the other controls front, back, left, and right. Sounds complicated by you’ll get the hang within seconds. $82.95. http://worldtechtoys.com/
Cobra Air Combat Helicopter Set (Cobra RC Toys)
This set takes RC flying to a whole new level by allowing pilots to compete head to head in a game of aerial laser tag. The set comes with two small, infrared-equipped helicopters, each with its own dual-joystick controller. But what makes this especially cool is that pilots shoot each other’s chopper with blasts of infrared beams. The first time you get hit, your bird starts spinning. The second time it spins the other way, and the third, it loses power and lands. Because maneuvering and firing takes more coordination and control, this one’s recommended for ages 14 and up (although my 10-year old daughter had no problem kicking my butt). $85. http://www.cobratoys.com/
Force Flyer Motion Controlled Helicopter (Regal Elite)
The Force Flyer stands out by completely changing the way you fly. Instead of the dual-joystick controller, you use an accelerometer-equipped glove and a single, thumb-operated stick that controls speed and up/down. The glove allows you to move forward, backward, left, and right just by subtly moving your hand the same way as if you were pretending that your hand itself was the chopper. Flying any of the RC helicopters is great fun, but Force Flyer makes the whole experience even better. Regal $35.95. http://forceflyers.com/
If you think glove controls are amazing, get ready to pick your jaw up off the floor. The Orbit dispenses with joysticks and gloves and instead uses… your brain. No kidding. Setting up the Orbit is a little more complicated than the others. You’ll need to download a free app and strap on a special EEG headset. Then, by clearing your mind and focusing at the same time (harder than it sounds but it’s completely doable and gets easier with practice), you achieve lift off. Easily the most amazing flyer we’ve seen, the Orbit is actually less helicopter and more like set of rotor blades inside of a protective ball—a great feature. For now, the technology enables you to only get the helicopter to go up. But for the geniuses at Puzzlebox, it’s only a matter of time. $189.00. http://puzzlebox.info/