Why do people think an RC (radio controlled) helicopter is easier to fly than an airplane? It’s not like the copter just levitates by itself or maintains its position without constant adjustments. If I’m going to be flying something like that, especially indoors, I’d rather have the copter take a different approach to flight; one that doesn’t require so much “tweaking” all the time. Oh, I’d like to be able to do more than just have it go up and down too. So that’s why Spinmaster told me to fly their Air Hogs RC Elite Helix X4 Copter.
The Helix X4 doesn’t look like a conventional helicopter — it’s a quadricopter — so think of it as more of a hovercraft because each of its four ports contains a ducted fan pushing it up and along. Spinmaster built a gyro stabilization feature in it too. So someone just starting out in the world of flying RC is less likely to do so poorly in their first outing that they throw it in the corner and go back to video games. Do what I did the first time by just having it rise up from the ground and then “work” its position back and forth in a circle to get used to using the double joystick controls and its inherent speed and maneuverability. I’d also set it for Novice which seems to make the control movements more “gross” and so less inclined to jerk around until you’re more experienced with it.
You “feed” the controller batteries and connect the Helix X4 to it and wait for the charge to take hold — better yet, connect the USB cable to an AC adapter or computer because it’ll be quicker, provide about 10 minutes of flight time and save the batteries for powering the controller. The controller isn’t tiny and so fits well in big hands. It has dual joysticks and the actual functionality required to fly the Helix X4 is simple to get the hang of (I especially liked the dial for reining in the charging cable after use). The controller uses the 2.4GHz radio frequency, but I didn’t see any interference with my home network while using it, nor did the Helix X4 suddenly “lose” the radio signal whenever I stepped back from it. I was about 10-15 feet away on average from it in my apartment building’s rec room, because I realized that you needed plenty of empty space around for maneuvering and for performing stunts. The Helix X4 “cheats” for you by automatically performing 3 stunt maneuvers; just set the switch and press the button on the controller to have it do a backflip or a barrel roll or a 180 degree flip. You’ll find, as I did, that the stunt will work best if the Helix X4 is as level as you can have it first. And it’s a good thing that Spinmaster has made it of materials that can take a bit of a beating since doing this too close to a wall has predictable results (it has a sort of rubberized “feel” to it). But because just 3 stunts can get old fast, once you get the hang of flying it, you can start coming up with your own stunts.
I also had Spinmaster’s AtmoSphere on hand, literally, as it’s a free flying sphere controlled by proximity — think of it as a Yo-Yo without a string that goes above your hand. The lightweight plastic sphere is about the size of a grapefruit with a fan at the bottom. Placed on the battery powered charger, I waited for the red LED on its side to turn green: Spinmaster says this can take up to 30 minutes (I had to wait 19 minutes). I removed it from the charger, went into the kitchen and held it on my palm with fingers extended. Flicking the power switch, the AtmoSphere took off and started to rise, but I as could see that it was slightly angling to the left, I quickly grabbed it. I repeated the lift-off with my hand held level and this time the AtmoSphere went straight up. But it didn’t keep rising till it hit the ceiling and instead started to hover, and I could see that my hand movements near it (the wind generated blowing against my hand) was what was causing it to move about. I got my hand beneath it and got it to bob up and down as I raised/lowered my arm. Spinmaster’s video has people controlling its ascent in ways that I could see were indeed possible, provided you practiced a lot. You’ve about 5-6 minutes to use it.
Bottom line: Spinmaster’s Air Hogs RC Elite Helix X4 Copter is a good way to get into RC powered flight that won’t bore; $79.99 buys you flying time combined with a sophisticated flight system and control. Add the $24.99 AtmoSphere to your arsenal and you’ve your own fun little air force.
4-channel radio control, Novice/Advanced setting
Requires plenty of empty space indoors for stunts
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.