Remote control cars. Remote control boats. And now, remote control helicopters that fly remarkably well.
Imagine a group of children shrieking with delight as two of their number conduct a dog-fight with two remotely-controlled helicopters. Meanwhile, nearby, their own children huddle together casting black looks and pouting at the loss of their toys.
I was watching something similar the other day. The two experts were making their helicopters chase each other, blowing papers off desks, dusting office plants and trying to catch their opponent in their downdraught, causing an immediate crash.
“Hmmmm,” I thought. “I need one of those. I could then relive the excitement of that chopper flight onto Fox Glacier a few years back. I could use it to dust and trim the houseplants. It wouldn’t be a toy then, it would be a tool.” Instant justification.
Advances in engineering and technology have made it possible to manufacture technically-advanced toys that perform almost as well as their real-life counterparts. The secret to making a toy helicopter that really flies has been developing miniature counter-rotating blades to provide lift without the body of the ‘copter gyrating wildly. The device then needed light-weight batteries to hold enough charge to power the motors, and motors built largely from plastic to make the thing light enough to fly.
With the tool on special at a local toy store (forty dollars without batteries) acquisition was simple. But I was about to experience more than the thrill of learning to fly.
The first challenge is separating the fragile-looking toy from it’s pesky packaging. How they ever attached it is a marvel in itself. Detachment involved the surgical application of a sharp knife and cutting the cardboard mounting with scissors to set the helicopter’s landing gear free. A short course in micro-surgery would have been helpful beforehand.
Throw six AA batteries into the remote control unit (the manual insists that you add a “polar indicator” at the same time, but I didn’t have one). I was tempted to pop back to the shop to buy one, but bravely pushed ahead. There was a helicopter to fly.
Once separated from its possessive packaging, the chopper is ready to go. You need to find the tiny ON/OFF switch, but there are no batteries to install. It uses a lithium-ion polymer battery. These batteries can be shaped to fit devices and are popular with manufacturers of remotely controlled toys because of their light weight. Surprisingly, it seemed to be fully charged out of the box, and my first flight (in advance of RTFM) was only moments away.
The controls are pretty straightforward, and the first 5-6 minutes of flight are quickly used up by just having pure fun (and lots of crashes).
The controller supplies the power for recharging the helicopter and, while you wait, it’s time to RTFM (read the flaming manual) for more entertainment.
The instruction manual is full of gems like this:
“NOTICE: when the controler is in electrification, the controler LED turns light, when in charging, the comtroler is twinkling,” and this which is thoroughly jumbled but still almost makes sense;
“While the indicator of the controller is sparkle, which shows the controller is lack of power. And you can change some batteries for it.”
There isn’t much in the way of twinkling and sparkling in the LED department, but you quickly get the hang of things after a couple of recharge cycles.
But don’t throw the manual away. It contains one instruction that you will need after playing around, if you really want to make the helicopter go where you want it to go. The chopper body tends to rotate round and round during flight but there’s a rudder trim adjustment that needs to be performed to stabilise the thing so that it can perform straight flight. Once again, the manual will only confuse you on this point.
The trick is to slightly rotate the adjustment knob on the controller in the opposite direction to the helicopter’s rotation. That is, if the helicopter tends to rotate clockwise during flight, tweak the rudder trim knob anti-clockwise to cancel it out.
It takes 20-30 minutes for the chopper to recharge, so have a look through the manual while you wait. There’s plenty of fun inside. It was obviously written by an over-eager engineer who wanted to proudly include a detailed description of the helicopter’s parts (main blade, balance bar, landing gear etc.) that have no corresponding entry in the manual.
And the best bit of all is the section on cancelling out that wascally wotation. “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.” Right-oh.
Any confusion here is clarified later in the section, “When the airplane tail presents the clockwise rotation, you may the counterclockwise rotation you in the hand the remote control vernier adjustment knob until balanced. Note: The tail fin aims at the operator.” I wasn’t sure whether the last bit was a health warning, or advice that the toy would get angry with me if I ackled the wrong lever or counterclockwised the wrong vernier. Oh well. The manual has provided almost as much amusement as the helicopter!
“Yes, Dear. I’ll mow the lawns shortly. When I’ve finished dusting the houseplants. Golly. Have you seen the broken ornaments in the lounge?” (nervous cough). “They must’ve fallen over during that magnitude four earthquake way down south this morning…”