rc helicopter advice
May 16, 2007 1:55 PM   Subscribe

I'm thinking of buying an RC helicopter. I need some advice.

I've been very intrigued with these low cost RC helicopters for a while now and have a few questions maybe someone here can help me with.

I want to spend about 200 or less and get a decent little helicopter I can fly in public parks. I'd like it to be newbie friendly and have decent flying time. Ideally, I'd like to be able to attach a camera to it. I just want something to fly around and have fun with.

I've found this helicopter (or the cheaper Night Ranger II) and think it would make a good buy, but I really dont know what to look for. Is this a good brand? What other brands can I get in this price range? Should I buy a second battery immediatly? Should I get a non-acrobatic one first?

I'm also concerned about learning how to fly. At 200 bucks this thing aint cheap and I'm not sure if I should just try to fly it the day I buy it or try to get some training. Where or how can I get training for an RC helicopter? I am located in the metro Chicago area if it helps.

Lastly, I'm also open to flying an RC plane in this price range if its safer, easier, and more fun. Any RC plane suggestions would be appreciated too. Thanks!
posted by the ghost of Ken Lay to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Are you sure you want a helicopter for "intermediate to advanced" pilots?
posted by rhizome at 2:21 PM on May 16, 2007

The things I know about RC aircraft (my stepdad's major hobby. he's got a hangar in the backyard):

Helicopters are much harder to learn than planes.
Planes are pretty darned hard to learn.
Parts break when you crash and are expensive to replace.
You can't fly in just any park.

My advice about RC aircraft as a hobby:

Start on the low end of the skill & money spectrum.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:44 PM on May 16, 2007

You need this first: Havoc Heli, originally known as the PicooZ but now available rebranded in any Toys'R'Us or online for 30 bucks... This thing is so much fun it's unbelievable, and it's totally indestructible. It's really quite difficult to fly to start with, and if you're a beginner it's a good place to start. Great for getting those smooth twitch reflexes sorted out before taking out the neighbor's dog with a full size rc chopper...

Just make sure you're getting a real one, there's a whole bunch of knockoffs out there that have bent rotors and pretty much don't fly anywhere near as well. The Havoc brand is fine, but I've seen dodgy versions at Fry's being sold under random brand names.

I can pretty much follow the thing all through my house, landing on any surface and buzzing my wife at will, to her infinite annoyance!
posted by mikw at 2:48 PM on May 16, 2007 [2 favorites]

There is a very high probability (probably 99%) you will break the helicopter irreparably within 10 flight hours. There is probably a 97% chance you'll break it irreparably within 5 flight hours. There may be a 95% chance of breaking it irreparably in the first 10 minutes. They don't fly well indoors, because they are easily affected by "own vortex" effects in enclosed spaces. The don't fly easily outdoors because of sensisitivity to even very light wind conditions. Transitions of flight phases are always touchy. Hovering takes practice and luck.

You'd be a lot happier, I think, starting with a lower cost, higher survivability fixed wing RC, or even a control line operated plane. Having fun at a new hobby is important if it is going to actually really become a hobby.
posted by paulsc at 2:58 PM on May 16, 2007

That Havoc looks like 10,000 tons of fun (*gets out wallet, glances at cairn terrier*) . . . This isn't an answer, it's a question, but I hope admis will let it stand: that thing can't fly outside, right?
posted by The Bellman at 2:59 PM on May 16, 2007

Seconding the PicooZ/Havoc, which I bought for my partner this xmas. He has some experience with RC planes and cars. Helicopters are much harder, and I agree, you will crash it immediately. It is tiny, and no, you cannot fly it outside. Its fairly indestructible because its made of polystyrene with plastic rotors, so it would get blown away if you took it outside. Don't get hung up on the fact that its marketed as a toy, the "real" RC stuff is not recommended for total beginners! Have fun with this first, for a lot less cash :)
posted by Joh at 3:14 PM on May 16, 2007

Third the PiccoZ/whatever. I got one as a gift, and it's fantastic. You have to mess with it and the controller a bit to get the best out of it, but it's a great learning toy. I've always been interested in this kind of thing but never got around to buying one.

Also, and this may sound odd, but I feel like I learned a ton about flying a helicopter from Grand Theft Auto. The controls aren't perfect in the game by any means, but you do have controls on multiple axes.
posted by ninjew at 3:27 PM on May 16, 2007

Gizmodo might be reading your mind.

Looks like a hoot to me, at least.
posted by The GoBotSodomizer at 4:27 PM on May 16, 2007

I think the trick is to learn how to fly an RC helicopter BEFORE you ACTUALLY fly one! Use a simulator. I remember a while back some co-workers were getting into this, and they got a controller for the computer that was just like a real RC heli remote control, and used RC heli simulation software. Once you're totally confident with a simulator, THEN you actually buy a helicopter a fly it.
posted by Emanuel at 4:52 PM on May 16, 2007

We were also heli newbies, and started out with this. It was invaluable practice simply getting familiar with the controls. We crashed it repeatedly, but nothing a little super glue didn't fix, and the experience helped us in not destroying our later purchases. But it was only really fun and interesting for about two days when its lack of linear motion wore thin.

We then tried this and this which were not an improvement. We were looking for a more professional, less toy-like helicopter with greater steering control and settled on a dual rotor helicopter, because it is apparently easier to learn on.

We bought this E-Flite CX2. It is in your price range, but not really an outdoor helicopter. It can go outdoors but only on extremely calm days, otherwise it just gets blown away. Its flight time is only 10-15 minutes, and we did buy a 2nd battery. We have been extremely happy with our choice though, it is a great indoor heli!
posted by Trekoni at 5:45 PM on May 16, 2007

RC helicopters don't have to be hard to learn. The time constants can be slowed down, and stability can be designed into the aerodynamics and electronics. Problem is, all that stability takes away the ability to do really aggressive flying. Notice how those tiny helicopters pretty much just go up and down and around in circles..

Among aircraft capable of stunt flying, fixed wings are easier to fly and more capable than helicopters - but only helicopters can cut grass :P
posted by Chuckles at 5:48 PM on May 16, 2007

I'm not experienced in helis but when I was learning to fly soaring planes I found it extremely helpful to go with a company that also had a full selection of replacement parts for order. I would stick to a hobby retailer such as Tower Hobbies or Hobby Lobby as most of the brands they carry have replacement parts available.
posted by asterisk at 10:15 PM on May 16, 2007

FWIW: My brother got a small electric heli, similar to the Night Ranger, and after months of trying, we basically couldn't fly it. I think our record flight-time was 4 seconds. He won't fly it anymore because he's tired of buying replacement parts. This will be you, if you jump right into this.

The smaller helis are too light and twitchy for beginners. You can't fly them outdoors because any little wind will send them off-kilter. But you can't fly them indoors because there's too much stuff to run into and generally not enough vertical space. On the other hand, the bigger helis maim people when you screw up, so....

If you still want to do this, get a simulator and learn how to fly a heli on your PC first. You'd be amazed how hard it is to fly a simulation heli, even with no wind. The simulators cost around $200, including controller, but if you're serious about learning to fly a heli, it's money well-spent.

But, really, you should go fixed-wing first. Build yourself a Slowstick. It'll end up costing $200 or so by the time you add all the electronics. You can re-use the electronics if you decide you want something sportier.

In the meantime, get one of those little pico-helis to dick around indoors.
posted by LordSludge at 7:37 AM on May 17, 2007

I love my Havoc Heli. I broke one tail rotor, but it came with a spare. How can you NOT love something that says right on the box- "indoor helicopter". For added fun, turn on the ceiling fan. When battery is low, fly over near the woodstove to catch a thermal.

It works outside, a little bit. The Havoc has an IR controller (not radio), so you need line of site to the copter, and you can't get too far away from it. Sunlight seems to interfere with the IR, and that seems to be the main reason it is an indoor helicopter.
posted by Area Control at 2:31 PM on May 17, 2007

Nthing the Picoo/Havoc.

I bought one. Then I bought another one. I now have three of them on three different frequencies. Once I taught my buddies to fly them, we added a case of beer and discovered that hitting yourself in the head with these things doesn't hurt much.

Yeah - we're dorks.
posted by Thistledown at 3:33 PM on May 17, 2007

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