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Helizone RC Lightning Bird RTF Nano Helicopter Review

This Los Angeles-based distributor makes its first foray into fixed-pitch standard nanos with a tried-and-true, affordably priced design that's more than a simple decal job. Join me for an RCGroups.com/Crackroll.com exclusive!

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Introduction


Helizone RC Lightning Bird
Main Rotor Diameter:7.55" (192mm)
Main Blade Length:7.6" (19.2cm)
Weight:1 oz (27.8g) without battery; approximately 1.1oz (32g) ready to fly
Length:9" (22.8cm)
Servos:Enclosed geared ultra-micro servos integrated with the main board
Transmitter:WLtoys four-channel 2.4GHz with illuminated LCD status display and digital trims
Receiver:Receiver/ESC/servo combination
Battery:200mAh 3.7V lithium polymer
Motors:Coreless main and tail motors
Typical Flight Duration:Eight minutes
Minimum Operator Age:14+
Minimum Skill Level:Experienced beginner
Manufacturer:Shantou Chenghai Weili Toys Industrial Co., Ltd., Fengxin Industry Park, Fengxin 2nd Road, Chenghai District, Shantou City, Guangdong Province, China
Distributor:Helizone RC, 5363 Alhambra Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90032 USA
Available From:Amazon.com
Price MSRP/sale price (USD):$79.99/$49.99 plus free shipping from Amazon.com

Back in 2011, I had the pleasure of reviewing the Helizone RC Thunderbird indoor coaxial helicopter provided by the Helizone RC folks in Los Angeles, CA.

Since then, they've been both generous and gracious aid in keeping both my Thunderbird in the air, cheerfully providing parts and technical service. In fact, I was sent two Thunderbirds for that review in case of any technical glitches and I made a Christmas gift to my son of the second one.

Pleased to say there weren't any and my T-Bird is still flying high today. So is my son's.

During our correspondence, I was told of an upcoming fixed-pitch single-rotor nano helicopter in the works, one over which they traveled to China to meet directly with the factory in order to make this more than a simple color and decal change.

It's my pleasure to present an example of the very first production run of the Helizone RC Lightning Bird fixed pitch nano.

Based on the WLtoys V911, the 100-class Lightning Bird (or "Lightningbird" according to the canopy) improves on that design with far larger 200mAh batteries as opposed to the original's 120mAh units. There's also a less troublesome connector. It's similar to, but not exactly like, the battery found on the WLtoys-sourced Align T-Rex 100.

This particular sample is actually the second Lightning Bird sent to me. The first was a pre-production unit with proposed 150mAh batteries fitted with the Nine Eagles-styled connectors of the original WLtoys version. It arrived in a box with V911 graphics and a transmitter with a "WLTOYS" badge. Mr. Ho was even kind enough to email a copy of the .png file used in the creation of the graphics.


It goes without saying that travel to and from China is far from inexpensive and should impart how serious Helizone is to make a splash with this model.

The price will certainly help. It's available through Amazon.com for US$59.99 and ships from the US. There’s a special introduction launch special at $49.99 with free shipping while supplies last!

The result of all that traveling and engineering is the subject of this review.

Since it's assembled and ready, getting airborne will be a breeze.

Kit Contents

The display box/storage case with its dramatic graphics contains the following goodies:

  • Fully assembled and aligned Lightning Bird helicopter
  • Four-channel 2.4GHz transmitter with illuminated LCD display, battery charger power lead, digital trims and switchable dual rates
  • USB-powered charger and cord
  • Two 200mAh 3.7V lithium polymer batteries
  • Spare main blades and tail rotor
  • Illustrated operation manual

All that will be needed are:

  • Six AA-cell alkaline batteries for the transmitter

As attractive and dramatic as the packaging is, there is, at least to my eye, a small glitch.

The top panel shows the transmitter, not the helicopter.

No matter. What's inside is what matters and what's inside is nice. Dramatic, too.

A shiny plastic vacuum-molded tray holds all of what is needed to fly less the transmitter batteries. The instruction manual was just under the tray. In my case, Helizone RC may have tested my unit before shipping since it already had some batteries in place.

The charger is clipped in place by the tray, but everything else is either taped in place or in the case of the helicopter, twist-wrapped.

Talk about a sinister looking little bird.

Except for the motors, receiver antenna and the main drive gear, the Lightning Bird is as black as night from nose to tail, set off by a silver lightning bolt motif on the canopy, vertical tail fin and even the main blades.

It's the Oakland Raiders "Raider Nation" all the way. No bright, garish colors here.

It might be too black for the taste of some, but I like it. If I were on the design committee, I'd have suggested doing the windshield in a contrasting color, maybe with an airbrushed perimeter. As it is, I'm tempted to get a sheet of Bare Foil that I'd planned to buy anyway for an upcoming static model car project, but that's an expensive way to go. I'll likely just leave it alone.

The delicate looking but flexible landing skids have a rather noteworthy feature. Besides serving as the battery tray where the assembly attaches to the frame, there are two small tabs on the bottom of the left skid. These are designed to tilt the helicopter ever so slightly the right in order to help compensate for the natural tendency for it to want to crab to the left on takeoff. It's a minor but brilliant attention to detail and one which works perfectly in practice.

The battery charger has two charging ports and is powered either by one's computer via the supplied USB cable or by an umbilical in the back of the transmitter for charging at the field.

The manual says that a AC-to-USB power adapter for a smartphone or similar device will work. I tried the adapter from my iPhone and sure enough, it works fine. The red LEDs on the charger indicate the batteries are charging; when they go out, it's fun time. My sample arrived with two fully charged li-pos, so fun was only a few moments away.

As far as that manual is concerned, it's exactly the same one shipped with the V911 version. It's far better than what I've come to expect of many Chinese manufacturers with fairly well-translated English and excellent engineering drawings which would not be out of place in a Tamiya or Kyosho manual. It naturally doesn't show the battery upgrade and the parts listing oddly names Align by name and not WLtoys.

Other than those very minor quibbles, a lot of other manufacturers would do well to use this manual as an example of how to do it right.

Those who have ever done time with either a V911 or a T-Rex 100 will feel right at home with the Lightning Bird's lightweight 2.4GHz transmitter. There are no Helizone markings, but the panel in front of the LCD display still shows it as from the "Micro Heli V911."

Firing it up illuminates both the large red power indicator, the large blue LCD display and a series of alert tones. The display really isn't useable while the model is in flight, but it does give indication that the sticks are operating properly prior to takeoff as well as the battery level, trims and dual rates.

Of the two chrome buttons atop the transmitter, the right is a dummy while the left allows the model's high and low control rates to be adjusted in flight. The display reads either "MODE 1" or "MODE 2," which in this case refers not to the transmitter sticks but the control rates. There's an audible tone which sounds once for the default Mode 1 and twice for Mode 2, or aggressive.

Should one wish to really get aggressive, the servo pushrods can be moved to the outside holes on the arms and the swashplate links moved to the longer set of ball links on the swashplate itself. That's how mine arrived.

Digital trim tabs easily trim the Lightning Bird in flight. Like a more expensive unit, once the transmitter is powered down, the settings are retained. As I would soon learn, my particular example came trimmed and ready, needing only one click of left aileron to get it to hover hands off.

Since my example came already bound to the transmitter, getting the Lightning Bird ready was a simple as plugging in the battery and keeping it still while the receiver initialized. A red LED flashes slowly for about a second or two and rapidly for about four seconds. When the LED glows solid red, the servos snap to attention and the model is ready to fly.

If necessary, the binding procedure is simple and once bound, the units will stay bound to one another.

The board itself is worthy of a mention. Many nano-sized aircraft utilize some sort of exposed linear servo to work the control surfaces.

Not so the Lightning Bird.

Attached to the board are enclosed, gear driven and proportional servos which work great. They're quiet, smooth and additional swashplate throw is as easy as removing the arms and moving the rods to the outer holes.

Flying

In as-delivered trim, the Lightning Bird is an excellent stepping-up point for those experienced with small coaxials. Beginners, please note that gentle throttle is necessary when spooling up a helicopter such as this since the throttle makes it climb. Too much too fast and you'll have a little black missile zooming toward the ceiling.

Ah, though you may laugh, dear reader, I can tell you with all honesty that a friend of mine with no prior R/C experience once augered a little coaxial into his ceiling with a full throttle takeoff for its one and only flight.

I have a "name brand" nano similar to the Lightning Bird, so I had an idea of what to expect.

I just didn't expect it to be this good.

The Lightning Bird lifted off from my living room floor as smoothly and as stable as a far more expensive helicopter. The geared servos make for very smooth control and even in the relatively gentle "Mode 1" setting, this is one fast and responsive little chopper.

Even with the servo pushrods and swashplate links set for maximum throw, the Lightning Bird never felt as if it were anything but smoothly controllable.

What impressed me the most was the relative lack of the "pendulum effect" common with fixed-pitch models when transitioning from forward flight back to hover. My other nano requires a lot of fiddling with the transmitter sticks to keep it from swinging back and forth before settling down. Not so the Lightning Bird. It pulled back almost as nicely as a CCPM machine, simply transitioning back to hover with little drama.

Switching to Mode 2 really woke things up. Pirouettes in Mode 1 are relatively slow and lazy, but the Lightning Bird spins like crazy on Mode 2. Spinning the tail and releasing the stick results in an immediate stop with only the slightest hint of tail bounce. Cyclic is a lot more responsive as well and can be made even more so by relocating the servo pushrods to the outside holes of the servo arms and relocating the swashplate links to the longer ball links of the base of the swashplate.

I tried it outside in my front yard; not too bad. Problem is, the conditions must be dead calm because even a slight breeze is going to make things difficult for the Lightning Bird. There was only a whisper of a breeze, but I found myself fighting the controls.

The same problem arose at the Coachella Valley Radio Control Club's helicopter pad during the video shoot. It simply wouldn't fly forward against the breeze even on high rates. Since there's no way to program exponential in the transmitter, switching to Mode 2 resulted in a hyper-sensitive tail...and very little headway.

Beginners should please note that outdoor performance of this nature is typical of a nano helicopter like the Lightning Bird. In fact, a coaxial of similar size would have been plain unflyable.

All was not lost since the next morning was as calm as calm could be. Now the outdoor fun could begin.

The Lightning Bird was now in its element, flying as well on both rates out over my driveway as well as it flew inside the house. I ran several packs outside during the course of a few more days with much the same results.

In short, this is one fun machine no matter where it's flown.

Aerobatics/Special Flight Performance

The Lightning Bird will, of course, do things like backward flight which is quite stable. With a bit of practice, someone transitioning from a coaxial will find themselves performing both tail-in and tail-out funnels. Pirouettes are a blast in both modes, performing them with little or no loss of altitude. My other nano needs some throttle to help keep it airborne during piros.

It's small enough to be relatively unaffected by low-altitude ground effects, so hovering an inch or two above the ground or spot landings are a cinch.

Is This For a Beginner?

An experienced beginner comfortable with flying a coaxial in any orientation is going to love this little chopper. It has almost all the stability in hover with a lot more speed and maneuverability. Intermediate and advanced pilots are going to want to have one around just for blasting around the living room. If one has access to a large indoor area such a gym, the fun would be almost unlimited regardless of skill level.

Flight Video/Photo Gallery

The video shot outside really doesn't do the nimble handling of the Lightning Bird justice. In dead calm conditions, it did just fine.









Downloads

Conclusion

The Helizone RC Lightning Bird is, simply put, a winner. It combines a proven and popular design with a super low price through a US-based distributor, one which will support it with parts and service. Helizone sought to keep the sale price at no more than sixty bucks plus shipping and, if applicable, California sales tax. They were successful in doing so and the models will be packaged with everything I received for the review.

I told Helizone they will sell every one they can get their hands on at that price, especially if they keep the parts pipeline up and running.

It isn't quite as high tech as some of the flybarless nanos which have hit the market in recent months, but it has the advantage of affordability and terrific flight characteristics regardless of the traditional design.

Besides, I find it difficult not to like anything that looks like a baby Black Ops chopper. Therefore, the Lightning Bird gets two thumbs way up. It's a rare bird indeed - lightning or otherwise - that turns out to be just as much fun for beginners as it is for more advanced helicopter pilots.

What more can anyone ask?

I'm genuinely honored for the privilege of being chosen to review this great little helicopter and it's my pleasure to thank the folks at Helizone RC for that privilege. These are folks who support this site and are in turn worthy of consideration.

It's always a pleasure to thank RCGroups administrator Angela Haglund who makes these reviews possible in the first place - and it's all done for our readers.

Enjoy your stay here at RCGroups.com!

Pluses and minuses

There's much to like about the Lightning Bird:

  • Much higher quality than the price would indicate
  • Affordably priced
  • The improved battery and charger give great flight times
  • Flies great indoors and likewise outdoors if conditions are calm enough
  • Can be electronically and mechanically adjusted for maximum stability, maximum response or somewhere in between
  • Proven design with good parts availability
  • US-based distribution and support
  • Excellent operation manual
  • Great looking package which can double as a carrying case
  • As much fun for experienced beginners as it is for intermediate and advanced heli pilots

Minuses are few:

  • The all-black color scheme is a matter of taste (I happen to like it)
  • Only the charger and its cord clip in place in its tray; the model and batteries need to be taped in place it the case is to be used for storage and transport
  • Anything other than dead calm outdoor conditions will result in difficult control, but no more so than any other similar helicopter
  • Tail control is very sensitive near stick center on high control rates
  • The case seems to have been printed with the front and rear panels reversed
Last edited by DismayingObservation; Dec 12, 2012 at 11:07 AM..

Discussion

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Old Dec 12, 2012, 04:45 PM
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Where's the You Tube video?
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Old Dec 12, 2012, 05:13 PM
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Originally Posted by Wingman26 View Post
Where's the You Tube video?
No official one as of yet because it's too new. There are a couple of amateur videos, but that's it.
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Old Dec 14, 2012, 11:46 AM
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got another clone for you

http://http://www.brookstone.com/stu...ctList|796083p
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Old Dec 14, 2012, 11:47 AM
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new link: copy and paste it

http://www.brookstone.com/stunt-copt...ctList|796083p
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Old Dec 14, 2012, 12:17 PM
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So, what I'm seeing is the addition of 200mAh batteries for an extra $20 over a V911? That , and a black canopy which would be hard to see?
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Old Dec 16, 2012, 01:43 PM
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Originally Posted by GiantScale View Post
So, what I'm seeing is the addition of 200mAh batteries for an extra $20 over a V911? That , and a black canopy which would be hard to see?
No, it's ten bucks more. I just found it overseas for $39. The Lightning Bird ships from the US with free shipping through Amazon and is supported here as well.

I had no problems keeping mine oriented during outdoor flight. It definitely isn't flashy, but I maintain that it looks cool. Simply painting in the windshield would help if orientation is a concern.
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Old Dec 16, 2012, 02:02 PM
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I like this bird! better priced then the vl toys 911 at amazon now.
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Old Dec 16, 2012, 02:19 PM
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I like this bird! better priced then the vl toys 911 at amazon now.
Hows that? Amazons $50 Tmartusa $40 up from 30 some a week ago
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Old Dec 16, 2012, 05:11 PM
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not the same comparison....2 different kinds of birds do to larger batterys/canopy color plus amazon got free shipping. and there vl toys v911 is $60 bucks right now
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Old Dec 20, 2012, 11:01 AM
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Originally Posted by nvidia101 View Post
not the same comparison....2 different kinds of birds do to larger batterys/canopy color plus amazon got free shipping. and there vl toys v911 is $60 bucks right now
I did some research on the V911 just before I began this review. There seems to be at least two different motherboards, not to mention the two kinds of batteries. One motherboard has linear servos; the Lightning Bird has the more up-to-date board. It also has the new batteries.

I just blogged over here about $30 Syma IR coaxials which are now on sale at Circle K convenience stores. Twenty bucks more gets the Lightning Bird. I have had a blast with mine to date, by the way. I've had a couple of "dumb thumbs" contacts with my living room sofa when pushing the flight envelope a bit too far in an enclosed space, but it shrugs it off and keps going. No damage yet whatsoever.
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Old Dec 24, 2012, 09:28 PM
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im in
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Old Dec 25, 2012, 10:00 PM
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How many flight do you recon the motors will last? and how long are the flight times? And how does it stand up to repetitive crashes into furniture and carpet? I may have to pick me one of these up. I was looking at the v911 model on fee-bay, but if this is a better version. I'd rather have it than deal with The Bay. Nice review!!!
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Old Dec 26, 2012, 09:57 AM
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How many flight do you recon the motors will last? and how long are the flight times? And how does it stand up to repetitive crashes into furniture and carpet? I may have to pick me one of these up. I was looking at the v911 model on fee-bay, but if this is a better version. I'd rather have it than deal with The Bay. Nice review!!!
So far, so good with the motor life and I'd timed the flights at about eight minutes which I'd mentioned up in the infobox. It looks odd with that battery dangling out the rear of the thing, but doggone it of they don't give a real boost to the flight times.

I've hit some furniture and even a wall when I've gotten a bit overexuberant with the sticks, but it's emerged unscathed each time.

Thanks for the compliment!
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Old Dec 26, 2012, 09:16 PM View Post
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