We've all seen them and perhaps scoffed at them as well. I refer to the inexpensive, no-name radio controlled or infrared controlled toys we encounter in retail outlets, convenience stores and mall kiosks. The question is, are toys like this worth buying for that little one in your life who is enthralled by your fleet of model aircraft and is tugging at your sleeve in the fervent hope you'll buy one? We'll take a look at a random sample of just such a toy and see if it's worth the rather modest expense, not to mention the adult supervision and expertise needed to get that little one flying with you.
Make that cup of coffee a small one; it isn't going to take much to get this little bitty example of an impulse buy airborne.
|Rotor Span:||5.3" (135mm)|
|Weight:||.3 oz. (9g)|
|Transmitter:||Two-channel, three-band infrared with charging cord for the helicopter|
|Receiver:||Two-channel, three-band infrared|
|Battery:||Single 3.7v lithium-polymer, capacity unknown|
|Motor:||Unknown micro main motor, coreless micro tail motor|
|ESC:||Integrated with receiver|
|Typical Flight Duration:||Five minutes|
|Operating Range:||30' (9m)|
|Construction:||EPP foam fuselage with plastic rotors and flybar; electronically controlled three-color onboard LED light display|
|Manufacturer:||Shantou Xinhai Plastic Co., Ltd., Guangdong, China|
|Available From:||Various retail and online outlets|
All I needed to get my example in the air were the following:
The Carmel Valley area of San Diego, California is a bucolic, upscale and beautiful area not far from such world-class California destinations like Torrey Pines, La Jolla and the fabled Del Mar Racetrack. My wife and I are fortunate enough to have family in the area and we visit often.
One thing that never failed to catch my eye at a nearby Mobil On the Run convenience store was a very small IR toy helicopter there among the inexpensive Maisto and Jada diecast toy cars. I never quite got to the point of breaking down and buying the thing for only twenty bucks.
I'd been wanting to do a review such as this for a long time, so please put your hands together for the Sky Master Indoor Miniature Helicopter!
"Miniature" sums it up well; it's actually smaller than my E-flite Blade mSR and is positively dwarfed by my Heli-Max Axe CX Micro.
My $19.99 got me a fully assembled helicopter complete with a 3.7v lithium-polymer battery, a two-channel infrared transmitter with three IR bands and built-in charger lead for the model, two spare tail rotors and a reasonably clear instruction sheet. The semi-scale fuselage is made of tough, flexible EPP foam. However, the large beads used in the molding process topped with a gecko green and splotchy brown "camo" paint scheme gives the Sky Master a decidedly reptilian look. It may not be the ugliest color scheme I've ever flown, but it's definitely in the top two.
I almost expect the thing to speak up and try to sell me car insurance.
I'd remembered it as being a coaxial; imagine my surprise when I saw that it was fixed-pitch with a working tail rotor...and either "Auto-stable Technology" or "AUTO-STABLIZER TECHNOLOGY," depending where on the box I happened to look. "Stablizer" showed up the most, so that's what I'm going with, despite having no idea what it is.
My best guess is the main rotor which, like a more advanced model, pivots with the flybar. A little coreless micro motor surprisingly like the one on my Blade mSR works the tail rotor, but there was no swashplate (and therefore no servos) for any kind of cyclic control.
So...how do you fly this thing? Better still, will it fly at all?
First things first. A small phillips screwdriver is required to remove the battery access hatch on the transmitter. Since I wanted to get the best possible results, I stepped up to some Duracell AA batteries instead of the 99-cent store versions I'd considered using.
From there, it was a simple matter of plugging the charge cord into the jack on the side of the helicopter, turning on the transmitter and waiting for the green LED charge light to go out.
Once charged, the helicopter is powered up via a microswitch next to the charge jack.
That's when part of the fun began.
There's a lens underneath the nose of the fuselage; high-intensity green, blue and red LEDs begin flashing in an electronically controlled sequence. This might be the last thing you'd expect to see on a camouflaged military chopper, but the cool factor is undeniable. If and when this toy ever quits, I'll have to find a way to use that light show on a model.
I switched everything off and thought it best to review the instruction sheet first. Since there are neither servos nor a swashplate, the Sky Master flies with a combination of throttle and tail rotor speed. The goal is to get the helicopter flying in a clockwise circle. Hovering really isn't an option. Neither are left turns.
Back on came the transmitter and receiver and up went the Sky Master for its first flight.
It was badly out of trim, pirouetting madly in a counterclockwise direction. There is a trim knob on the transmitter; after a bit of trial and error, the helicopter was airborne.
I was honestly amazed how stable it was, an important consideration for a toy like this. Actually flying it was a different story altogether.
The tail, at least on this particular model, has no gyroscopic control. No big surprise here, but I'd hoped that the fabled "Auto-stable Technology" might have been a gyro of some sort. Shantou Xinhai does make more sophisticated toys with a gyro-controlled tail, but this isn't one of them. So, even the slightest bit of left stick would send the nose snapping hard left. Putting it into a counterclockwise pirouette meant it was going to keep on spinning left for awhile, even with full right stick. Flying straight -such as it is- requires a combination of right and left stick, causing the Sky Master to look like a drunken green and brown fish flopping its way through the air.
Photographing a model I could sucessfully hover would be easy. This, well, not so easy, especially with the central air running. Just ask my poor wife. At least I'm able to prove that the thing really flies:
With a bit of practice and further fine-tuning of the trim knob, I'm now able to maintain a nice, gentle and very stable right turn. I'e also become fairly proficient at anticipating the tail, but I don't expect to completely master the technique. If your home has central air or forced air central heat, make sure it isn't running when you try and fly the Sky Master. On a lighter note, that doggoned LED "disco ball" shines right in my eyes with each nose-in pass. It's blindingly bright and will easily illuminate a dark room for night flying. There's also a tiny little LED next to the charge jack which I think signifies that it's receiving an IR signal, but I can't be sure.
This little eggbeater is also surprisingly resilient. Like my Blade mSR, it will happily take a hit against the nearest wall, artificial plant or whatever happens to be in its semi-controlled path. As of this writing, taking place about three days after purchase, I've already logged about twenty flights and all remains well. I'm even on the original tail rotor.
Since this has an inaccessible lithum-polymer battery onboard, I highly recommend landing at the first sign of lack of power or tail authority.
The Sky Master Indoor Miniature Helicopter might inspire a youngster to want to learn to fly radio controlled helicopters or other aircraft, but this isn't the way to teach them the ropes. It's a low-cost toy sold in bulk to the aforementioned types of dealers one would expect to carry such a toy. There is a certain fun factor given the flashy LED display and overall stability, but unless an adult is willing to help a small child fly this toy, it will simply be a source of frustration. An older, more proficient child may find it boring. As for me, I like it, but I'd much rather fly my E-flite Blade mSR, my Heli-Max Axe CX Micro or my Twister Police Helicam in the living room.
For those reasons and the fact that the electronics are inaccessible, I feel it necessary to give this toy a two thumbs-down. The saving grace might lay in the fact that this toy can possibly serve as inspiration, but if that child or grandchild really wants to fly and he or she is old enough, spend $80 and buy a Blade mCX RTF. That extra $60 will be money well spent and the time you'll spend teaching that lucky child to fly will be priceless.
From the smallest indoor fliers to the largest giant scale models, there is no greater wealth of information on all things radio controlled (or in this case, IR-controlled) than here at RCGroups.com. My thanks go out to administrator Angela Haglund for her never-ending efforts to keep these reviews up to date and of course, to you, our readers.
Feel free to spend time here with the little ones. Regardless of what inspires them, they represent the future of this great hobby.
See you next time!
There are actually a number of things to like about this little helicopter:
Naturally, there are some minuses:
|Aug 02, 2011, 02:09 PM|
United States, CA, Davis
Joined Jan 2010
nice post! I used to buy these just for kicks, and they would never last me more than a week before they broke. but their fun to chase cats around the house! I remember getting into RC planes with one of those cheap Estes Sky Rangers, they were not bad.
|Aug 02, 2011, 02:19 PM|
IMO these things do more to keep people out of the hobby (much like Cox did with control line aircraft 35-40 years ago). There's nothing more discouraging to a budding RC enthusiast than not being able to fly the aircraft they bought. The inevitable reaction is "these things suck!" and they'll never want to touch R/C again and the parents who see this "toy" fail and get tossed in the trash will never buy anything like it again for their kids.
|Aug 02, 2011, 03:25 PM|
USA, OH, Cincinnati
Joined Nov 2010
Consider buying the Syma S107. They are hands-off easy to fly and only around $20 or so (currently $18.40 with free shipping from Amazon) Here's one: http://www.amazon.com/Syma-S107-S107...2302407&sr=8-1, but do a search as prices go up and down all the time.
I often buy several of these at a time to give to people I want to get hooked on R/C. I have one that I bought a year ago that has been flown by at least 50 people, and has only needed one spare part, the tail rotor blade (there was a spare in the box!). They are mostly metal, can be charged from the included transmitter or from a PC using an included USB cable.
|Aug 02, 2011, 06:04 PM|
I have sold and fix hundreds of e-flite MCX helis. The rtf is $80. The 40 buck helis are crap. If your new new to heli your gonna crash. If you can't get replacement parts your done. $80 buys a great flying Hobby grade heli.
|Aug 02, 2011, 06:19 PM|
Nice review! Come to think about it, there really isn't any need to access the internals. It's just the little brick and battery.
|Aug 03, 2011, 03:52 AM|
Something very similar to this was how I started back in R/C. In the 1980's it was cars, in 2008 it was a $10 2 channel I/R heli from a fuel stop
The learning was really good for me...just that thing of working out what and why and how and finally having a semblance of control.
It's still alive ! it still flies and it's always been rubbish outside in a breeze.
|Aug 03, 2011, 06:34 AM|
Joined Jan 2004
Nice review ... BUT
You are reviewing a clone of the Silverlit PicoZ
PicoZ is something like 4 or 5 years old now ... so you got a old outdated bad clone
The PicoZ is a cheap , but by the time it was a lot of fun for a very stable 2ch IR micro Helicopter. The main advantage of this micro Heli, it was that it is indestructible. Having 3 different channel, it did/does allow to make some multilayer games with it .. like tier down the opponent helicopter by crashing on his rotor with the body ...
In the meanwhile I have seen in a supermarket a ~15$ 3ch Radio micro helicopter ... it was flying decently too ... but being metal & plastic and not light EPP was too fragile for the little kid hands.
Clearly, these toys have nothing to share with a real 4ch FP or 5ch CP.
The PicoZ I think it did help the RC hobby ... since people after got a hand on it may did look for more.
Your example, since is a bad clone ... it may ruin the RC business ... but it may increase the awareness that some cheap Chinese clone are just rubbish.
|Aug 03, 2011, 08:52 AM|
The idea wasn't to actually review this specific model, but rather to demonstrate whether or not an "impulse buy" such as this would be worthwhile. I've played with one of the examples over at the Amazon.com link. One of the local hobby shops had a few - again as an impulse buy - but for considerably more money. A few dollars more would get you into an E-flite. I haven't been there in awhile and I don't think he stocks them anymore.
|Aug 04, 2011, 01:39 PM|
I've impulse bought several along the way, starting back with a Venom when they were kind of expensive through to a little dual rotor Air Hogs Vehi-cross. This most recent purchase, I was surprised to discover, actually is somewhat controllable. Provided the battery still has enough charge to keep it in the air (if not, you can drive it on the floor...whee) Can't complain for $15 at the grocery store. But most of my experiences with these toys has been frustrating, just as you describe.
|Aug 04, 2011, 05:58 PM|
Thanks to both of you.
I like keeping these reviews light-hearted and I figured that a tiny little foam helicopter that looked like it had some reptile DNA in it was worth doing with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
Right on the money regarding Air Hogs. I tried flying a fighter jet-looking thing with dual pusher props and differential thrust steering. "Frustrating" was an understatement. Not only did it not really steer well in either direction, but cutting the throttle also did a total cut of control. It was totally dependent on thrust since it had no control surfaces.
|Aug 05, 2011, 08:20 PM|
|Aug 08, 2011, 02:26 AM|
Australia, SA, Adelaide
Joined Oct 2010
Don't buy them!
Hi they look good only for the first couple of flies and quickly become something like a crazy dragon fly, which is, totally out of control.
That was why I had to ended up buying 2nd pair (of different brand) for my little ones after the first pair (as Xmas gift couple of years ago) became so after several days (no more than 10 flights, each 1-2 min). The 2nd pair quickly became crook as well so until now the kids still keep asking me why they were broken so quickly (while suggesting a 3rd pair ).