For Christmas, I received two inexpensive consumer-grade remote control (RC) helicopters made by Protocol: the TurboHawk 3, a small, indoor-only IR model, and the Skyline-G, a larger, indoor/outdoor radio frequency model.
Unlike earlier Air Hogs, these RC helicopters offer truly omni-direction flight control. By placing the tail rotor on top of the tail in the same orientation as the main rotors and with the help of a gyroscope, these RC helicopters allow you to change the angle of attack and truly fly forward, backward, turn left or right, hover, ascend, and descend. This can take some getting used to, because you have to constantly adjust altitude and trim while also controlling forward movement, but these controls are still simplified compared to a true hobbyist RC helicopter. With some practice, it is fairly easy to lift off, hover, and maneuver in simple flight patterns.
The Skyline-G and the TurboHawk 3 (Photo by Donovan Colbert)
- 6 3/4 x 6 1/2"w. wingspan
- 6 1/2" body nose to tail
- 3" body
- 3 3/4" h.
- 6 ozs.
- Price: $45.00 USD list ($29.97 at Amazon.com)
This helicopter looks slick; it has a menacing black plastic canopy with flashing mutli-colored LEDs that fade in and out behind the canopy window. The frame is a combination of aluminum and plastic, and seems better constructed than most toy RC helicopters I've seen in department stores, toy stores, and malls.
The TurboHawk 3 is about the same size as the Air Hogs line of RC toys. The remote signal is infrared, so it is only suitable for indoors flight, and you want to avoid direct sunlight. I've read that a lot of people have had bad luck with this copter breaking and that initial flights were difficult. Perhaps my previous experience with an Air Hogs paid off, because I found this copter very easy to fly from the start. I've also had some pretty wicked crashes and nothing has broken so badly that the copter was left inoperable.
The TurboHawk 3 has two sets of blades that are hinged and attach to the main rotor assembly by tiny screws. Although the blades on my copter have quite a few gouges after repeated flights, they're still providing lift and stability. Spare parts can be ordered from Protocol. Some owners complain that the selection of repair parts is too slim, but for an inexpensive beginner's RC helicopter, I think the manufacturer has the bases covered on the parts that are most likely to break.
The controller has three channels of operation and runs on 6 AA batteries. The heli charges by plugging into a small cable that comes from the remote -- it looks kind of like an old internal CD-ROM PC cable. The plug is very small, and the charging socket on my helicopter was not aligned correctly with the body of the copter. This makes it difficult to charge, and I wonder if the long-term stress is going to cause a failure. It takes about 20 minutes to charge, and you get about 5 minutes of run time per charge. This might not be enough time for your average kid, but 5 minutes seems like a pretty long time to me.
TurboHawk 3 (Photo by Donovan Colbert)
- 9 3/4" x 9 3/4" wingspan
- 12" body nose to tail
- 6" body
- 6" h.
- Price: $59.99 at Best Buy
This copter is much larger than the TurboHawk 3. The Skyline-G has an impressive array of LED lights under the canopy and up the length of the aluminum tube tail-frame. The Skyline-G also includes a spare set of rotors, and uses less plastic than the TurboHawk 3. The landing skids on the TurboHawk 3 are plastic, but on the Skyline-G they are metal and include foam training pads to help you make more gentle touch-downs while you're learning to fly. I've heard that the first generation Skyline-P had a lot of quality issues, but that the latest model, the Skyline-G, seems to be a far more durable product.The Skyline-G is really designed for outdoor use. The Skyline-G has a range of about 100 feet in diameter and a 60 foot ceiling. Because of the weather, I haven't had a chance to test these limits outdoors. I've got a large great room that is about 25x15 with 18' ceilings, and while the smaller copter is easy to navigate all over the house, the Skyline-G feels a little cramped and constrained even in a room that large. The first time I lifted off the copter spun out of control toward my natural brick chimney. My wife, daughter, and I held our breath as I gingerly edged the toy away from what looked like a short maiden flight followed by a return to Best Buy. The Skyline-G feels much more like a serious RC device and less like a kid's toy. The smaller copter has a tighter axis around its rotor, causing it to turn much more rapidly to the slightest input on the control stick. On the smaller copter, it is very difficult to turn the nose a quarter turn while hovering. Most frequently, you go into a wild spin around the axis of your rotor. On the larger Skyline-G, making a 90 degree adjustment to the left or right when hovering is very accurate -- the motion seems almost robotic. In this sense, the larger copter seems more stable and precise. Despite that accuracy, the Skyline-G seems more menacing when in the air. I am comfortable flying the TurboHawk 3 right up to my face, veering off at the last second. When I see the bigger one coming toward me at eye level, the hair on the back of my neck stands up.
This remote is a RF model with a large telescoping metal antenna. It requires 6 AA batteries, but unlike the smaller model, you charge the Skyline with an AC adaptor. There is a small connector on the helicopter that plugs into the AC adapter. After a 60-70 minute charge, you disconnect the cable from the adaptor and plug it into a slot on the motor of the helicopter, and then you are good for approximately 5 minutes of flight. A word of warning: The charger is not a trickle charger. You've got to watch carefully when charging and remove the charger as soon as the battery is full, or you can damage the battery.
Skyline-G (Photo by Donovan Colbert)
What I like about both RC helicopters:
- The controls are relatively easy to learn.
- Flight is realistic and a lot of fun to master.
- The construction seems fairly durable for inexpensive toys.
- Design and LED lights are really cool.
What I don't like about both RC helicopters:
- It would be difficult for a child to master the flight controls. Flying requires a lot of multi-tasking.
- Spare parts may be difficult to obtain.
- Battery life requires a long recharge for a short flight-time, and the lack of trickle charger introduces the possibility of damaging the battery on the Skyline-G.
Geek gift bottom line
As an executive toy for an adult, either of these copters would rock as a geek gift. But if you're looking for a toy to keep a child entertained for hours at a time, you might want to pass on these RC copters because of the difficulty in flying these devices, as well as the relatively fragile construction and the long charge times and short battery life for both copters.
Geek Gift Score for both Protocol RC helicopters (out of 5)
- Fun factor: *****
- Geek factor: ****1/2
- Value: ****
- Overall: ****
Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his professional role is as a Linux support engineer for a fast-growing Linux/FOSS consultancy group. You can follow him @dcolbert on Twitter or his personal blog, located at http://donovancolbert.blogspot.com.